that he would lay hands on them and pray over them.
The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened:
'Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me.
God's kingdom is made up of people like these.'
After laying hands on them, he left."
Matthew 9:14 (The Message)
Geoff and I were privileged to minister to a group of children this weekend. As I began to pray about what God wanted us to teach them, I felt Him saying that He wanted us to just love on the children. While it was important for us to have something to do with them and structure to our morning, I felt our focus was not to be on curriculum, but simply on love.
The first arrivals were really energetic (a.k.a. BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS AND SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS!) This was simply confirmation that we would definitely need an extra dose of God's love to shower upon them. :-)
And then a boy walked into the room wearing a blue sweatshirt, with the hood pulled over his head. "Ah-ha, this one will need a different kind of love," I thought.
The first words out of his mouth made me smile. "My name is James*, and I don't have a name tag."
"No problem," I answered, as I wrote his name on one and stuck it to his chest.
He immediately took it off and said, "No, I don't wear name tags. If people want to know my name, I'll just tell them." At this point, I began to chuckle inside.
He then put his arms out and said, "Oh, and I'm new to this whole classroom thing. Just thought you should know."
"So am I," I replied with a bigger smile on my face. Our morning was off to a great start.
Trailing seven-year-old James was a four-year-old girl named Zoe*. While James was trying to cover his nervousness with bravado, his little cousin simply shadowed him wherever he went, never once removing her thumb from her mouth.
Just as we were gathering the kids to start class, little Zoe let out a shrill and fell to her knees. It turned out that her cousin was trying to throw a football and nailed her hard in the chest. My mommy-instincts automatically kicked in and I stooped down to pick her up.
Now, you have to know that my own four-year-old, Sara, has taken years to allow us to hold her close and cradle her. After having my two oldest children grow up being snugglers, my brain and heart needed to learn to adapt to a non-cuddler. Instead of expecting immediate bonding from children, I now expect just the opposite.
So, when I picked up Zoe, I expected her to either pull away or go stiff. I was ready to do whatever she needed, but wanted her to feel comforted and safe. What happened next brought tears to my eyes.
Little Zoe burrowed herself into my neck and got as close as she could. I had already discerned that this little girl needed some extra loving on. While I was sad she was hurt, I was grateful for an opportunity to forgo formalities and be able to hold her close and give her some love.
From the moment I picked her up, I noticed a strong odor about her. At first I wondered if she was wearing a diaper in need of changing. Granted, she was four, but you just never know, right?
After seeing her soiled clothes, however, I realized she simply needed a good bathing. My flesh tried to be bothered by this, but my spirit woke up to the precious opportunity God had graciously dropped into my lap.
The little girl looked as though she was from a third-world country, and yet, here she was right in my own community.
And to think, I had felt disappointed lately because I haven't been able to go on a mission trip yet! All I needed to do was open my eyes and see the children and families in need around me.
I brought little Zoe over to the group of children and joined the circle. She snuggled in even closer as I began to gently rock her back and forth. I noticed that every time I stopped rocking, she kept rocking.
Geoff asked if any of the children had prayer requests. As we made our way around the circle, I gently stroked Zoe's little back and head. When we got to Zoe, I whispered in her ear if she wanted us to pray for anything.
The words she spoke felt like a knife in my heart. She quietly spoke for the first time, "For my Dad. He's in jail. He's a bad man. He killed people."
Her cousin then added, "Her Dad hurt her, that's why he went to jail. She's confused. She doesn't know what she's saying."
I don't know where the reality lies, but either way, these sweet children were carrying burdens and knowledge far too heavy for four and seven-year-olds.
I don't exactly remember my exact words because I was so stunned. I know that I my goal was to acknowledge the seriousness of what was being shared, while also trying to put the other kids at ease.
I talked about how people with broken hearts hurt others. I said that we could pray for the Zoe's father and ask Jesus to help heal his wounded heart. I then quietly said to Zoe, "I am so very glad that you are here. We'll pray for your heart as well. I'm so sorry your father hurt you." I then asked Jesus to go deep with His love.
A little while later, James and Zoe left the circle and refused to join the group again. Until God opened another door for me to minister to them. They told me they were hungry and wanted to have the breakfast they had earlier refused. Oh, what a privilege it was to serve them food!
Remembering that James didn't like name tags, I felt God guiding me to mark his paper cup with a smiley face. I then added the words, "I like you!"
Wouldn't you know, in just a couple of minutes, I noticed my new little friend balancing his plate on the Bible we had given him. He was crawling slowly back on his knees to rejoin the group. I quickly went over to help him carry his things and made room for him at the table.
James was soon followed by his sweet little cousin. My son, Liam, asked me later why Zoe was nice for the adults but stuck her tongue out at all the children when we weren't looking. I told him the same thing I told precious Zoe. People with broken hearts hurt others.
I asked God to break my heart for those things that break His. Yesterday, He answered my prayer, yet again, in a new and deeper way.
Her name was Zoe. His name was James. God used them both to open my eyes to the children and families in need around me.
Oh, my Sweet Friend, there are so many children hurting all across the world. God calls some to travel across the seas, and some to minister in our own neighborhoods. Either way, our job is to reach out and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. When we do, God is glorified and lives are changed. Including our own.