…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. — Mark 10:14
I spent a better part of last week figuring out how to keep a rambunctious 9 year old boy occupied over the weekend and still manage to get a ton of stuff done that was on my “honey-do” list. Being a single parent for a weekend can be a lot of fun. Allowing yourself to be carefree without the intervention of the “responsible” parent has rewards a-plenty. Running across the street to play at the beach, throwing the football around in the backyard, chasing the dog down the alley (I hate it when she gets out), or skating without helmets at the skate park can be a great way to bond…but when you’ve got a list a mile long that “HAS” to be finished, it puts a damper on what’s really important.
Luckily for me, while driving past our local community park, I noticed a very large sign advertising kid’s programs. Ok, I know, that’s really not all that unusual. Most parks have some sort of kid’s program, or after-school program, but what caught my eye was a little line that said:
Drop your kids off SATURDAY between 12p and 4p for supervised activities – FREE!
Saturday, for whatever reason, is the one day we get up the earliest. Last Saturday was no exception. No alarm to jar me out of pleasant dreams. No dog whining and pushing her cold snout under the covers onto the most sensitive part of my leg. In fact, none of the shockingly obnoxious ways to wake up happen on most Saturdays around my house. But still, we manage to be up at the crack of dawn and most of the time even earlier. Being awake however doesn’t necessarily mean being up. In fact, this past Saturday, I managed to stay in bed until 11:30a, getting out of bed only long enough to (i) feed the dog and (ii) feed the kid.
By 12:30p, Paris and I pulled up to the park. And it was then that I noticed something funny. This confident, funny, intelligent, cute little 9 year old was quite obviously a little bit scared. He had been so excited as we walked out the front door, but now, he was dragging his feet. Just as we walked up to the Community Center door, I put my arm around him and gave it a squeeze. Now I know that all good parents are supposed to say at this point that he didn’t have to go but two things deterred me from following that path; 1. I use to be a kid and I remember my own bouts of fear that nearly always resulted in a good time; and 2. I had a “honey-do” list. Quickly, I gave them all my information, gave Paris instructions to “behave, be good and have fun” and walked out the door with a “free” three and a half hours staring me in the face.
I’ll be honest, as I ran around marking things off of my list, I did feel a twinge of guilt about leaving Paris at the rather cold and impersonal Community Center. Sure I had noticed a basketball court, pool table, air hockey and foosball tables along with tables set up for chess and checkers, but still, the sight of the little tyke that I love, looking a little forlorn, lonely and maybe the tiniest bit scared (not that he would admit it of course), well it made me work harder at getting my list finished.
I rolled up at 3:45p. No need to be late! Besides, the look I had last seen him with made me feel quite certain that he would be most happy to see me. Except that he wasn’t. In fact, he looked a bit teed off that I was there; so teed off in fact that I beat a hasty retreat, promising to wait out by the car until 4p rolled around. When it did, out he came surrounded by a whole slew of kids. They were hooping and hollering and all the things that little kids do when they get together and are free from unwanted parental guidance. I watched with a little bit of pride as that forlorn little boy I had dropped off just a few short hours before was literally bursting with confidence and surrounded by “friends.”
Over the past week, Paris has reminded me that the program is every Saturday and that he has made plans to skate board with some of his new friends (oh and I’m supposed to bring the soccer ball this time). As I thought about how easy kids seem to make friends, I began to think of the injunction that Christ gives in the scriptures. In three of the Gospels, a story is told regarding Jesus surrounded by a whole bunch of people, including kids. Jesus’ Disciples apparently felt that kids were in the way and began to shoo them away. According to some translations, this irritated Jesus a great deal and he brought one of the kids into the middle of the crowd and told his Disciples not to send the kids away because the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to them. In fact, Christ went so far as to say that those who refuse to welcome the Kingdom of God like a child would never see it.
I firmly believe that most of us act like we are the role models for our kids, not the other way around. But this past weekend, I took the opportunity to see just what it was that a 9 year old boy could teach me. I found it quite interesting. Even though he was scared, he didn’t let it stop him from facing the unknown and he made friends with lightening speed. He didn’t label them first, seeing who was who. He didn’t lay out a long list of sins and see who fell under which category. No, in three and a half hours time, he had made friends with everyone there. He was accepting!
As I’ve thought about what I learned from Paris, I began to think that it makes sense for Jesus to ask His followers to come like kids; to in fact model our lives after the smallest among us. The ones I know don’t need a lot of coaching when it comes to uncomfortable situations. Their definition of friend is simple. They don’t throw labels up and then eliminate those labeled incorrectly. No, they only learn that garbage from the adults around them. Jesus said we have to welcome the Kingdom like a child. A child welcomes all without holding up a measuring stick first!
I know that until and unless I learn to accept all of God’s people for who they think they are, I run the danger of not modeling the childlike behavior Jesus celebrated. Loving people regardless of the labels we like to exclude them with, is something that is attractive about kids. Kids, at least the ones I get to spend time with, don’t seem too worried about changing their friends. They just enjoy them! Lately, I’ve been reminded that it isn’t my job to fix people! It’s my job to love them – to model childlike behavior – learning to love people regardless of labels allows me to mirror Christ’s love and I’m finding that when people are introduced to a real version of Christ’s love (not this in-your-face bullhorn kind of crap so prevalent today), they find it attractive and want it to invade their life.
My prayer is that God helps me to be a little childish in my love and acceptance of others, allowing Him to deal with the issues He feels are important, not the ones on my agenda!