Learning to Love the Little Children

JENILYN SWETT|GUEST

My friend Bethany and I were sitting in the play area at Chick-Fil-A while her 2-year-old played. There were a handful of kids playing with and around her, and the kids outnumbered the grown-ups. In the course of their playing and climbing, Bethany’s little girl got scared by some of the older kids. While Bethany consoled her, another little boy emerged from the slide, crying hysterically. His mom wasn’t in the room, and though he’d never met me before, his tear-filled eyes were looking to me for help as he heaved and sobbed. I did the only thing I know to do when a little one is in trouble: I treated him like he was mine. “Buddy, what’s up?” I pulled him closer to me and started rubbing his back, hoping he’d catch his breath. In between sobs he got a few words out: he was upset that Bethany’s little girl was upset. He just wanted everyone to get back to happily playing. “Ok, buddy, can you take a deep breath with me?”

“I caaaaaaaaan’t!” He immediately wailed. At that point, his mom came in, hugged him and gave him a quick pep talk, and sent him back to playing.

Called to Love 

As we continued our conversation over the next few minutes, Bethany said, “You were really good with that little boy earlier.” I fumbled to know how to respond—because what I was doing felt so natural for me. Nothing to be commended. But as we continued talking about my love of children and my joy in relating to them, I realized something: this was not just instinct, not just personality. In fact, through most of my 20’s I generally felt awkward and easily overwhelmed by kids. But by God’s grace, I have been learning the art of loving children, and growing in my conviction that doing so is something we are all called to do.

When a baby is baptized, the baptism recognizes not only the role of the baby’s parents, but the entire church family, in the baby’s life and faith development. At my church, the pastor invites the congregation to stand and asks, “Humbly relying on God’s grace, do you promise to help this baby’s parents bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord by striving to set a godly example for him, praying for and with him, and teaching him the truths of our faith?” Then we get to answer with a hearty, “We do!” And more often than not, I shed a few tears because it is so beautiful, and this precious little one has no idea what a gift they’ve just been given.

All Our Children

I see my fellow church members living out this baptismal vow in various ways. There are the formal avenues, like volunteering in the nursery, teaching children’s Sunday school, or helping out with the youth group. But there are as many informal means of loving and caring for the children of our church— and these informal means are as varied as our people: making goofy faces to make kids laugh; enlisting the help of little ones in various tasks and patiently teaching skills; baking treats or cooking a meal; cheering at sporting events and musical performances; or coming alongside to offer a listening ear and wise words to parents navigating various challenges with their children (of all ages). We are all caring for each others’ children, and as we belong together in the family of Christ, in a sense they are all our children, regardless of biology or the length of time we’re part of each others’ days or lives.

Being single and not having kids of my own doesn’t let me off the hook. Nor is the point of loving and caring for the kids in my life is not just so that I can practice for if and when I have kids one day. The point of loving them is LOVING THEM. It is for their sake and mine… ours. These children are as much a part of our church body as their parents.[1] That means we need each other, no matter our age. So even if you’re not the one to teach children’s Sunday school or grab a couple of kids for an adventure in your city or pull an all-nighter at a youth lock-in, you can bend a knee to get down to a child’s level and talk with them at church on Sunday morning, or ask them a few questions as you eat dinner with the family one evening, or slow down enough to see the world through their eyes as they play or walk around outside. If Jesus himself, the Creator of the Universe with skin on, was not too busy or important to dignify and delight in other people’s children, to see them and want them near him, how can we be?[2]

Scripture speaks of children as a blessing.[3] Over time I have discovered that this blessing is not just reserved for parents— it extends to those who love and invest in the lives of these children in our church families. I have been richly blessed indeed, and I give thanks for the honor and privilege of loving and being loved by these little (and not-so-little) ones.

Jenilyn Swett is a daughter of God who is passionate about hospitality, education, and helping others to know God and themselves better. She believes that all of those things go hand-in-hand, and can be best accomplished when good food, a whiteboard, and fresh flowers are involved. Jenilyn grew up in Minnesota, spent four post-college years in Alabama, and now calls St. Louis, Missouri home. She received her MDiv from Covenant Seminary and serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry and Adult Education at Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship.

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

[2] Matthew 19:13-15

[3] Psalm 127:3-5; Psalm 128:3-6

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