A couple of years ago, a group of us got together with the intention of sponsoring a refugee family from Syria to come to Canada. The process had many ups and downs with potential families lined up to come only to have their immigration fall through. Finally, after much prayer and patience, a family arrived in Edmonton last week. This family came from Syria via Turkey and is made up of a father and mother and six children!
As a parent and now grandparent, it is amazing to see the resilience of children. The young children of this refugee family are full of joy and smiles. Considering what they left, living in a refugee camp and a war-torn nation, their attitude is an example to me in the times I face challenges and change.
This idea that God can use children to teach us, that we have an opportunity to gain spiritual insight from those we are called to raise and teach, comes from how Jesus Himself, who in this regard was something of a revolutionary.
In the first century, children enjoyed little esteem and virtually no respect. While families appreciated their own children, society merely tolerated them. The very language of the day reveals this first-century prejudice. One Greek word for child also can mean “servant” or “slave.” Another word describes children as inexperienced, foolish, and helpless. In those days, Greek philosophers would compare a stupid or foolish man by calling him a “child.” Even biblical writers would use the term “child” to admonish Christians for their lack of maturity and poor behavior. In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul tells his readers to “stop thinking like children…”
In Matthew 18:1-9, we read a story that challenges the cultural norm of how children should be viewed. Imagine that you are there, how astonished the people would have been, when Jesus brings a troublesome, noisy child and places him in front of the crowd. With His hand on the child’s shoulder, Jesus has the audacity to suggest that this small child provides an example to be followed by everyone!
I can imagine this little boy had to feel surprised! Just like today, young children could not wait to reach adulthood. They eagerly looked forward to shedding their lowly position and taking their position in the “majority” of society. But Jesus said, “No, you’re missing it entirely. Unless you humble yourself like one of these, you’ll never enter the Kingdom of God.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Look at them now, learn from them now, and aspire to become like them.”
Later in Jesus’ ministry, He does it again. In Matthew 21, just after He clears the temple of the money changers, children again become the centre of attention. In this story, Jesus not only chases off the thieves, but He heals the blind and the lame as well. The children, in response, begin shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
The chief priests and teachers of the law were furious and demanded Jesus to do something. They call out to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus responds to their question with a quote from Psalm 8:2. He says, “Yes, have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
What just happened here? The religious leaders scoffed at Jesus and tell Him to “Rein in these ignorant, foolish, and lowly children who treat you like the Messiah. You might be able to fool them, but we see right through you!” Instead of fighting fire with fire, Jesus shrewdly turned the tables. In essence, He responds to them saying, “You were fooled, but not the ‘ignorant’ children!”
Jesus seemed to take great delight in the fact that “inexperienced, simple” children had an understanding superior to the trained adults.
Speaking to the crowds in Galilee, Jesus declared in Matthew 11:25-26, ““I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
What we discover is the genius of children, spiritually speaking, is found in their state of helplessness. The Bible, as well as Christian spirituality, has consistently held pride as the greatest spiritual failing known to humankind. The message of the gospel scandalizes the proud: it insists that we admit we are fallen, helpless, and in need of someone to pay the price on our behalf and then to instill in us with a “foreign” power so that we can live life the way it was meant to be lived. A child incarnates this truth perfectly.
The process of parenting is one of the most spiritually formative journeys a man and a woman can ever undertake. Unless we are stone-cold spiritually, the journey of caring for, raising, training, and loving children will mark us permanently and powerfully. We cannot be the same people we once were; we will be forever changed, eternally altered. Spiritually speaking, we need to raise children every bit as much as they need us to raise them.