If weíll pause to watch them, children can teach us a lot about our own relationship with God.
“Mommy, thatís my teacher.”
“No sheís not! Sheís my teacher!”
“No, sheís mine!”
Three-year-old Tamara and her four-year-old sister, Jennifer, were arguing over to whom I “belonged.” My job at the preschool was to relieve the lead teachers for their planning periods and personal breaks and to help with “kid overflow” during certain times of the day. So when their mother came to pick them up, Tamara insisted that I was her teacher because I was with her every day at story time, while Jennifer argued that I was her teacher, obviously, because I was with her class right then on the playground. Of course, they were both right. But each knew me only in terms of my relationship with her.
Teaching preschoolers that summer, I thought a lot about my relationship with God, and I realized that each of us truly does come to God like a little child.
None knew me very well.
Certainly none of the preschoolers knew me as well as they thought they did. Although I worked hard to develop a relationship with each child in the school, none of my students really knew me. To some of them, I was the teacher who served lunch. To others, I was the woman who rubbed their backs at naptime, while some knew me only as the playground monitor. Perhaps a few of them realized that I existed outside of their classroom or that I was with other students at other times.
A small number of the children understood that I existed outside of the school. For example, a couple of them knew I had a daughter. Certainly none of those darlings had any concept of the whole me. They didnít know I was a college student, that I was learning Spanish, that I couldnít balance my checkbook, or that I had a countless number of other relationships in my life. Though I had a unique and special relationship with each of my children, there was so very much more to me than any of them ever really understood.
How true this must be of my relationship with God. I can read in the Bible about His infinite power and love, I can pray for knowledge and wisdom, but the limited capacity of my human mind prevents me from fully understanding the totality of God.
Some never acknowledged my existence.
When I spoke to three-year-old Tommy, he just looked at me blankly. That child never acknowledged my presence in any way. If he ever wondered how a snack appeared by his chair at snack time or who put a cot in his corner (always with his favorite fleece Superman blanket), he did not ask. As far as I know, that little guy had no idea I was taking care of him. By the end of the summer, though I knew him pretty well, he still knew nothing about me.
God is working in my life every minute of the day, but how often am I unaware of His presence? How often do I, like Tommy, fail to acknowledge the abundance of gifts Heís given me? Whether or not I offer thanks, God continues to provide for me, gracing my life with blessings.
Some made bad choices.
The rule at the preschool was that a child who misbehaved had to spend some time sitting in the “thinking chair.” The idea, of course, was that if children were disrupting the group or hurting a classmate by acting aggressively, the teacher could give them a little time to think about their behavior in the hope that they might act differently in the future.
Fortunately, this worked for most offenders after only a minute or two in the chair, but a couple of little boys and girls did more than their share of “thinking” time. One little girl named Angel never did learn to make good choices. I tried talking to her gently, talking to her sternly, putting her in the thinking chair, moving the thinking chair to the far corner of the class, talking to her momma, and enlisting the aid of fellow classmates in redirecting her behavior. I exhausted my supply of ideas and ran out of suggestions from others. Nothing made a difference for that child.
And yet no child was ever more sorry than Angel for a bad choice. I donít know how many times that little sweetie looked at me with her beautiful green eyes and promised to make better choices, and she meant every word, Iím sure. By the end of the summer, Iíd spent more time with Angel than any other child in the school. I loved her. But on the last day of school, as she pushed another child to the ground trying to be the first one to hug me goodbye, I had to sigh. Maybe next year!
How often do I, like Angel, make choices in my life that donít honor my relationship with God? Usually, I know what I should do, and sometimes I canít even explain to myself why I failed to do the right thing. Like Angel, I feel very sorry, I ask Godís forgiveness, and I promise God (and myself) that Iíll do it better next time. Like Angel, I keep trying. And God keeps on loving me anyway, just as I kept on loving Angel.
Most tried to please me.
I loved those little darlings, and they tried so hard to make me happy. Though the tactics they employed were varied (the three-year-olds wanted me to see how well they listened at story time; every two-year-old tried to be the quietest one at naptime; the four-year-olds wanted me to notice how well they shared the swings), every one of them wanted me to acknowledge their efforts.
Then they gave me little tokens of their affection. Some of these gifts, I appreciated—Cheerios, a green M&M, a picture theyíd made. Some gifts, I could have lived without—47 more pictures theyíd made, a leaf, the crust from their peanut butter sandwich. And there were a few gifts I wanted very much not to receive. No matter how many times I said, “Please donít pick the flowers,” they brought me flowers. I said, “The flowers belong to the planet, letís leave them on the bush.” But they brought me flowers. I said, “Donít pick the flowers, for they will die.” Still, they brought flowers. Even as I was shaking my head in frustration, I knew they meant well and they loved me.
How do my gifts honor God? I know that I can strengthen my relationship with God through prayer, worship, serving others, and spreading the word of Godís love. But like my students, I sometimes get so involved in the act that I forget to consider the purpose. Sometimes I need a gentle reminder.
Itís hard to know everything Jesus meant in Luke 18:17 when He said we can only receive the kingdom of God by becoming like a little child. Perhaps part of the meaning is that we should have the humility to recognize the ways that we already are childlike in relation to God and accept that we may never fully understand His infinite goodness, power, and love for us. Remember how during your youth, people would ask what you wanted to be when you grew up? Perhaps more of us should say, “When I grow up, I want to consider myself a little child.”
Lesa Lank and Marvin Hinton both live in Wichita, Kansas. She is program director for Communities in Schools of Sedgwick County, Kansas. He is an English professor for Friends University in Wichita.