Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Taking Kids Seriously

“Like all adults, children are created in God’s image. They have value as ends in themselves, not as objects of study or means to adult ends. They are, in essence, “gifts,” a phrase too easily reduced and cheapened in a market economy that has lost sight of the genuine nature of a gift.”

When we think of a child’s faith, we think of the embodiment of innocence, the child-like faith spoken of in Scriptures. How many artists’ renderings of children practicing their faith show them bathed in an ethereal glow of innocence and naiveté? For example, a picture of a little child kneeling by the side of the bed, hands clasped, eyes closed, reciting a bedtime prayer. There is nothing wrong with these visions per se, but these pictures "tempt us to see both children and faith as cute and sweet rather than thoughtful and challenging." Sometimes we are surprised by the words of truth from the mouths of babes, but more often our reaction is of how cute and endearing it all is and chalk it up to just another humorous moment to record in the baby book.

“At the age of three, the godchild of author and pastor Marjorie Thompson stopped what she was doing midstream to listen to a recording of Mozart that was playing in the background. Her parents noticed and asked if she knew who had written the music. “In a hushed and solemn tone,” Thompson reports, “the child responded, ‘God.’”

A Methodist pastor once told Thompson that his child came home from Sunday School to tell him, “God is bigger than our whole house and bigger than our whole yard.” The father responded, “Yes, that’s true.” Unable to resist a little adult theological correction, he added, “You know, God also lives in our hearts.” The child thought a moment and then asked, “If that’s true, then why aren’t our hearts bursting?”

Given our history, we are tempted to see these children and their stories as sweet and cute. But this assessment distorts their power. These children see something that adults have ceased to consider. They see through and behind our given reality to the heart of matters that adults have defined, categorized, mastered, and forgotten – the beauty of God’s music, the magnitude of God’s love. For “those who have ears to hear,” children often correct and edify us. They know more than we give them credit for knowing. Sometimes just attending to them can challenge and change us.”

The author challenges us to take kids seriously by taking their faith seriously. When we stop viewing our own adult faith as the better or more mature, we lose out on the learning opportunities Christ pointed out to us.

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in,” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. 2

“What is required now is not just a shift in our understanding of children. Rather, we must consider how our new regard for their complexity is expressed as we practice our faith within the daily rounds of family life. Taking children seriously entails not just what we believe or how we think about children; it also involves new ways of including them in the shared life of faith. Children are active agents and participants in the practices of faith, even if they bring their own perspectives, capacities, and insights. Now we must figure out what this means for our lives together.”

When we deny or suppress the value of our children’s faith and/or the faith of our own inner child, we do a great disservice to the Christian faith not only in our own lives but also as a whole. Sometimes growing up does not always mean growing wiser.

“…children’s wisdom - their proclivity for attention, sensitivity, pondering, and wonder - is not just what they know and say but how they live and embody their knowledge in daily life.”

Childhood has value that adult faith cannot surpass.

The author talks about making space for children and their faith by being active listeners without having our own agenda, as well as encouraging them in their expressions of faith as they grow. Asking questions, remaining open to their thoughts and ideas, offering honest thoughts of our own as well as admitting when you don’t know something are all ways in which we can allow our children to feel comfortable in their faith and grow (as well as our own faith growing from the shared experiences and conversations).

“If adults diminish children as active participants in religious practice, we both reduce the vitality of our own life of faith and overlook the human complexity children already possess. If we want to experience the daily care of children as a spiritual practice, then we must take kids and their faith seriously. Taking children seriously – as created in God’s image, as sinful, as agent, as gift and as task – has the potential to enrich the lives we share, in faith, with children.”


1. All words in green are straight from the fourth chapter of In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore
2. Mark 10:14 paraphrased in The Message by Eugene H. Peterson
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