One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from a child – a kid I barely knew. I was visiting my sister and her family who serve a church in New York City. We were with them one Sunday, and after the service, we did some sightseeing. Along for the ride was Jermaine, a neighbor kid who lived next door to my sister.
We visited Central Park, and then went for a look around the American Museum of Natural History. As we walked along, we came across a display with a manatee in it. Jermaine, reflecting on the lesson that morning at church, said, “So that’s what the Israelites ate.”
I love kids. There is something about their innocence and lack of inhibitions that makes for a wonderful – and sometimes wonderfully hilarious – combination.
Jermaine’s hysterical, and almost correct insight, happened over 4 years ago. Sadly, I have yet to find a way to work it into a sermon or a lesson.
But it fits this week’s blog, as I reflect on some recent interactions I have had with kids in three different settings.
One: I invited several children to join me on stage at church on Sunday to talk about the series we just completed, Discover Your Mission Now. And so on Sunday I found myself talking with Liam (age 7) about what he has learned. God wants us to be nice, he said. That’s a nice, safe answer. But then Liam proceeded to challenge his middle school brother to put that message into practice. It was as if Liam had been waiting all seven years of his life to finally get an audience and a microphone, and he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. This message is for you, Landon!
Second encounter: Our church hosted the Asante Children’s Choir last week. It was a great time with some wonderful African kids. They were sweet, polite (calling us men, “Uncles,” and the women, “Aunties”), and they never stopped hugging us.
Before their concert, we fed them dinner, and I sat with five of them as they ate. I asked the children how old they thought I was. Three of them guessed that I was in my 20s, and one suggested that I was only 18. And this was the same kid who had guessed, completely on his own, that I am the minister. Eighteen and the minister? I think I was still learning to tie my shoes when I was 18….
The third encounter, unlike the other two encounters, is ongoing. About a month ago, our family opened our home to a four-year-old boy who is a distant relative. He needs a place to stay for several months, and so we decided our family would be a good place for him for as long as he needs us.
And what a fun month it has been, as we get back into the groove of having a preschooler around. He is active. He loves to laugh. And he came to our house never having given anyone “knuckles” (you know; where two people bump knuckles together). So, I was proud to teach him that.
He talks in a way that makes us smile. Through him, I have learned that my first name has at least two syllables – as he calls me Uncle Ja-eff. He enjoys playing “way-gos” (legos), and his favorite drink is “choc-it” milk.
And he’s learning some things about church. After walking through our worship space at church, he asked about the pool of water up front. It’s a baptistery, we told him. “What’s a bad mystery?” he asked. I tried to answer that question, as best as I could – at least in regard to what a baptistery is.
But you know, I think he’s half right in his description. How God loves us and changes us and gives us new life is certainly not bad, but it is a mystery – one I can’t fully understand or explain. And I’m glad I don’t have to. I simply need to embrace and receive it.
And come to think of it – isn’t the same thing true of children?