“Let the little children come to me. Don’t hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
– Mark 10:14
Anyone who works with children, or has some of their own, reaps a heart load of touching memories from the things they say – especially on the subject of God. Children are like sponges, soaking up whatever they experience, exactly as their senses report it to them. What they see is what we get.
So today, after spending a week teaching vacation Bible school at our church, rather than try to say anything wise or grown-up myself, I’m passing along a few of the smiles and lessons I’ve gleaned through the years from some of my wisest teachers.
Sunday School or VBS classes are fertile ground for spiritual hyperbole and one-liners:
• Do mothers that spank go to Heaven?
• If the color black means sin, why is my Bible black?
• How can we all be God’s children when he’s not married?
• Who does God pray to? Is there a God for God?
Big words and tongue-twisters in the Bible? No problem. Just take out the “Kid James Version” and say it their way:
• “Our Father, who art in Heaven, ‘Hollywood’ be thy name….”
• “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email.”
• Then there was the child who thought God created baseball before he did anything else, because the first words in the Bible are, “In the big inning.”
Learning it “my way” often presents a challenge to those who plant abstract thoughts into the literal mind of a child. One parent I know had to pull his daughter out of a lake after she thought she could walk on water like Jesus did. And I learned a valuable teaching lesson the day I told the story of “Jonah and the Whale” from the whale’s point of view:
“Ouch!” I began, after Jonah’s suitcase hit “my” head. Jonah was running away, you may remember, and when the sailors threw Jonah overboard – well, you can see what might have happened. That was my mistake, confusing the children with possibilities when I should have stuck to the facts. I discovered my mistake when the class began drawing what they had heard, and several children drew a picture of the suitcase hitting the whale on the head.
Teaching children that Jesus is “in my heart” can be a problem, too. My young granddaughter and I had to go back to the drawing board on that subject, after she refused to finish her breakfast because “Jesus is full.”
I also remember when her daddy had to explain a difficult spiritual dilemma to me. We were living in Germany at the time – long before email and affordable phones – and my brother and his wife were 3,000 miles away in New Hampshire. By the time we received the letter telling us their new baby, Heather, might not live, the news was a week old. I didn’t know whether to pray for the baby to live, or for her parents to be comforted if she had died. That night, as my then 7-year-old and I were saying our bedtime prayers, he went straight to the point:
“Dear Jesus,” he prayed, “please help Heather have a good time in Heaven.”
Forgive me if I’ve told this story before, but I can’t close this subject without repeating another lesson that cleared up this mother’s thinking and lodged itself forever in my heart.
My toddler had been sick – again. Asthmatic bronchitis sidelined him often during the first years of his life, but now he was well enough to go outside and play. We were getting him dressed. He wanted to do the buttons “myself.”
Suddenly, overcome with gratitude that he was well again, I reached down to hug him and say how wonderful it was that the medicine had made him better.
He was still working the buttons, but he spoke with authority: “Medicine didn’t make me better. Jesus did.” He paused, head still down, and spoke again: “Jesus’ gonna come get me someday, take me up to the sky.”
Just then his head shot up, his face breaking into an excited smile as he said, “Mum! You wanna come?”
“…And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer, and author of the recently published book, As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)