Suffer the children

Have you ever noticed how men often grow increasingly grumpy as the years pile on and the thatch thins, while little old ladies grow sweeter as the years go by.

I saw an example of it a while ago. I was at a family gathering at which there were maybe six or more small children screeching around, doing their Lewis Hamilton impersonations while the long-suffering speaker made a valiant effort to do his bit.

The children were having a ball. How often I’ve envied the freedom of a tot to lie down on the floor when they’re bored. Wouldn’t it be great if middle-aged folk could do likewise without being viewed as a few slices short of a loaf ? On second thoughts...maybe not.

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But back to the Formula 1 kids. I’m an incurable people watcher and I scanned the faces of the people as they had their eyes firmly fixed on the children, and all the evidence confirmed my hypothesis. The men were scowling, and the women were smiling serenely, and then my attention drifted reluctantly back to the speaker. And here’s what he was saying; “ … Jesus was cross with his disciples for telling the parents to take the little ones away from him because he was busy doing important things. He said, ‘Leave them alone. Let them come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’.

“And do you know?” the speaker continued, “he could have lined the children up along the front of the church and prayed a blessing on them. But he didn’t. One by one he sat them on his knee, put his hand on their heads and blessed them.”

This particular speaker had a way of helping his listeners to really engage with the story: “Imagine your child sitting on Jesus’s knee”, he said. “Imagine yourself straining forward to hear what he was saying. Imagine what sort of people the children grew up to be.”

Who knows, maybe some of them were still around when the Romans levelled the Temple at Jerusalem 70 years later. Maybe some became leaders of the first century church. Maybe some even died for their faith.

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They may have grown up to follow him, they may not, but one thing’s for sure: their lives would never the same again.

It seems to me that adults don’t even begin to understand the influence they have on young lives, for good or for evil.

I’ve had some experience working with damaged children, and the hurt runs very deep. I well remember my first surprise, when a 14-year-old flew into a major tantrum when she heard someone refer to God as ‘Father’. Understandably, she associated the term father with every kind of ill-treatment, brutality and sexual abuse. And I will never get used to the sight of grown men, in their sixties or even their seventies, crying like children when they are reminded of the emotional pain they suffered as youngsters.

We would take our interaction with children much more seriously if we bear in mind what Jesus said: ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’