Plum decided he didn’t want to go to children’s time at church a couple of weeks ago, he preferred to climb on the steps and hang off of the railings. It was a Wednesday evening and I had no time to deal with his shenanigans. I asserted my views as I passed by carrying dishes to the kitchen, again as I went through for another trip. He was deep in conversation with Chef who had a group awaiting as well. The clock was moving ever closer to that moment when we all separate into our small collections of studies but also closer to Plum’s bedtime. Wednesday nights at church are a bit rough. Chef was finding minimal success in reasoning with this child who was enjoying his captive audience, who really just wanted our attention and to not be at church now that the running wildly through the hallway portion was over. Janet walked by, quickly assessed the situation as only a mother can and asked Plum to help her find her son so they could go to kids time. He went with her without looking back at us.
Several weeks ago I was stationed at a big table in the commons area of church, providing information about a new ministry when Janet’s daughter joined me in the extra chair. We chatted during the chaos of the comings and goings between services and then practiced her multiplication tables when it grew quiet, everyone either in a Sunday school or the service. It wasn’t until the doors to the sanctuary opened that she mentioned she might be in trouble for skipping her class! She was not where she was supposed to be, where her parents trusted her to go, but on this day she was where she needed to be. A bit of one-on-one, no new information coming in, a review of what was troubling her. We found a pattern, a way for her mind to click and grab and explore the numbers in a manner that intrigued her. No one stops this child when she is in that mode. She didn’t get in trouble for staying at the table with me, the math helped. We conquered 6 x7.
What if we were all that intentional, available, noticing the moments that a subtle shift of our attention could change the course of someone’s day? I am not advocating the judgmental grocery store tongue clucking as a two-year old flops on the floor in a fit of rage while mom tries to remember why she ever wanted kids. I am not encouraging parental pointers during that moment, but I am not opposed to a pat on mama’s back to say we have all been there, (really, who hasn’t?) to encourage her and then move along. What I am suggesting is being present in those times with people we do know, folks we are in relationship with, who could use a different voice or more importantly a fresh ear. I am suggesting being aware that sometimes children will follow a trusted adult to their class by virtue of that relationship. Let the child go, be that adult sometimes. Children will self-select a cocoon at a table with a trusted adult sometimes, be that adult.
Children tell us with words but more clearly with behavior when they need a break, sometimes we miss those cues until it is too late. As adults we train ourselves to ignore many of our own signals and those of others, not recognizing that God is in those tiny moments. Our Father is in the grace we offer the harried mother and the tired grandpa and the cranky children who want to go to bed or are worried about 6×7. Do we slow down to see how truly offering ourselves in those times is showing up as Jesus to lepers? Let’s face it, a melting -down child is surely about as attractive as those who were ostracized, sent to separate colonies. But also, how interested are we in the complaining friend, the old man who tells stories we have heard many times, the slightly stinky woman who sits too close?Do we recognize the child in each, do we see the God in all?
Personally I find it much more palatable to wash the dishes than talk to people at church, I am just rather introverted. Behind that reticence though lies fear, a hold over from childhood, rooted in distrust. But when someone stops and really checks in with me, they are speaking to the child within, leading me back to the classroom. When I receive a text message inviting me to come to a group, one well advertised to the entire congregation, I feel nurtured in the midst of my stinkiness, a holy moment. When a friend listens to my complaining for the umteenth time and doesn’t roll her eyes, she is caring for the cranky child who is tired and needs a nap and some stability. How blessed am I to be surrounded by those who offer up grace when I least deserve it, when I feel like flopping on the floor and kicking my feet and raging that it is not fair?
I pray that I can see those moments also, that I recognize the child in those around me who need an extra cookie and a glass of milk and to know that someone is aware that they exist, not just that they are there, but they ARE. Being seen at our worst and still valued, led to a safe place by a calm voice, a chance to practice our math and work out what worries us, this is holiness. God is in those moments and He wants me there too. Friend, I SEE you. Have I told you lately that you are important to me? I really enjoy what you bring to our relationship. Want a cookie? By the way, do you happen to know what 6×7 is?