I first wrote this post in 2011. I was preparing for a talk at our church called “Potties, Prayer and Playmobil” which was all about exactly the kind of things I want to discuss on this blog – praying with tiny children, nurturing your own faith as a parent, celebrating faith at home…it was a lot of effort but great fun.
While writing the talk, I had a sort of day dream but, unlike when my mind simply wanders, this daydream felt more guided somehow. It seems to be a way God sometimes uses to talk to me.
Anyway, it was about that scene in Matthew where the disciples try and shoo away the children who naturally gravitate towards him. Jesus instead tells the disciples to let the children come to Him.
It’s a familiar story and one it’s easy to read over too fast but my daydreaming mind allowed me to stay on the hillside a little longer and I started to wonder what the children had said to Jesus after they were welcomed to gather around him.
I am there on that hillside too, with my little one, my (then) two-year-old daughter, Pigwig. I notice Jesus doesn’t ask the Mums to wipe noses and he doesn’t insist on the children addressing him in any specific way or talking about “spiritual stuff”.
Come with me to this hillside and, if you have them, bring your children with you in your mind. The countryside around Galilee consists of gently rolling, softly coloured hills and the weather on this day is typically mild and balmy. Jesus is a magnetic force so there are a few children and their parents ahead of you. You can hear them as they come to him, as he welcomes them to himself.
Closest to Jesus is a young Mum with her first born. She is inordinately proud of him. Others may not yet see his potential but she knows he will be great and her world revolves around her little man and every new development. She hands her precious boy to Jesus, thrilled and incredulous that he is taking an interest in the centre of her world. The baby smiles delightedly at Jesus, then promptly burps up his entire feed down Jesus’ front.
The mother is mortified and starts to grab for her son but Jesus is just smiling at the baby. “Does that feel better, little chap?” he says. And then, to her, “Have you got a mussie, Mum? No, not to worry – my littlest brother was just the same.” There is no humiliation, no rejection. She knows without a doubt that her child is valued by this amazing person. And so is she.
Next comes a one-year old. He has a dribbly nose and a suspicious smell emanates from his nappy. His mother is not having a Supermum kind of day! But Jesus plays the ancient Aramaic version of “This is the way the farmer rides” and “Peepo!” with her child on his lap. Man and boy are just enjoying each others’ company. He pulls Jesus’ beard just to see what happens. There is a wince of genuine pain from the man but no lapse in his humour or patience.
The two-year-old looks the most familiar to me. She is alert, bright-eyed, curious about everything and her curly hair is constantly somewhat dishevelled. “Hello Jesus!” she grins without an ounce of trepidation. “This is dolly.” Jesus gives her treasure his utmost attention. “Hello dolly. What a lovely dolly! What’s her name?”
The little girl gives Jesus the kind of patient but perplexed look that only a toddler can give and says in a I-can’t believe-how silly-grown-ups-can-be voice “It’s Dolly!”
“Of course!” says the omniscient God of the Universe. “Shall we sing dolly a song? ‘If I was a butterfly…”
The three-year-old is less cheerful. “Jesus” she says. “I have an owie.”
“Oooh, that looks sore. How did that happen?” asks the all-knowing one.
“My brother pushed me.” she says.
“Wow, that must have made you sad. Well done for not pushing back.” he ys.
The child looks sheepish. She knows the only reason her brother was not pushed back was because she couldn’t catch him up with her little legs. She looks up at Jesus though and, although nothing is said, she knows she is understood. Without understanding the concept, her heart reaches out to his grace and she is forgiven without even understanding that word.
“Shall we rub the owie better?” asks Jesus. A gentle hand passes over her grazed knee and, although she later takes the incident for granted, her parents blink in the bright sun and mentally try to remember which knee the nasty graze had been on. Because, surely….
The most excited is the four-year-old. “Jesus, Jesus” he says. “Mummy gave me tuna sandwiches in my packed lunch!”
“Cool!” replies Jesus. “Did she remember the ketchup? And she took off the crusts? What a lovely Mummy!”
“Jesus, do you like tuna?”
“Are you kidding? I love it! I did make it taste that way after all! But I like it with mayo, and sweetcorn.”
“Mayo? Bleuch!!!” The little boy grins at Jesus. As a grown man, fishing on Galilee, he will always remember though who made the fish he catches.
And now, it is finally your turn to come to Jesus with your child. He smiles up at you and takes your child in his arms.
What does your child want to say to Jesus? And what do they hear from him.
Does every question start with why?
Do they show Jesus that horrid plastic dinosaur they take everywhere, including to bed?
Do they try to get his attention or approval, showing Jesus their cartwheels or their latest dance?
And how do we feel about that?
I just sometimes wonder what we tell our kids in the ways we communicate with God ourselves?
What do we talk to Him about?
When do we talk to Him?
Do our kids even get to see us talking to the Almighty? Or listening?
Do we inadvertently in the prayer times we have with our children tell them not to bother Jesus with the ‘little things’?
How could this look different ? How can we lead kids towards knowing (or rather never losing the knowledge) that God cares about the little stuff as well as the big? We don’t have to lose our respect or our awe of the Almighty but if He cares about the sparrow as he says in the Bible he does, he surely cares about the grazed knee. But do we communicate with our choices in what we pray for that limbs really have to be broken or people in hospital before we pray for their healing? Do we inadvertently communicate that God only does the “big” stuff, the “grown-up” stuff? (And then do we get scared when our kids pray out the other side of that window of items we feel comfortable praying for and start praying for the REALLY hard stuff like feeding every child in Africa?)
Are we just a little like the disciples sometimes, not wanting our little people to bother the Lord with their dinosaurs and tuna sandwiches?
You may be wondering, as I come to a close, how come I am so sure that Jesus loves tuna. It’s simple, really. One of the first ways that my daughter started to pray was with the song “Jesus, Jesus loves Mummy” song which I talked about in a previous post. She often, as I wrote then, prays for her little friends but she also sings verses about Jesus loving her favourite toy, Baby Rabbit. And cardigans. And, of course, tuna.
And I remind myself that that’s OK! Because that’s what she would talk to Him about if she was sitting on his knee.
I still have so many more questions than answers about prayer – and in some senses – may that never end, but my time on that hillside, watching the Jesus I think I recognise from the gospels, made me alert to how Jesus might see my child. I hope you can spend some time with Him there too.