“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” – Mark 10:14
Every morning I am blessed to start my day with a 30 minute commute from my home in Garden City, MI to my job in Ann Arbor. It’s not a horrible drive, but there is one spot along the route that always provides a test of patience: the ramp from West M-14 to South US-23. During rush hour, there are simply too many cars trying to merge into too few lanes, causing predictable backups every day. Because this is a daily occurrence, I normally use the opportunity to plan out my day, pray, listen to music, or to be alone with my thoughts.
Recently as I crept along the highway, I observed a flatbed truck in the next lane carrying a large load of lumber. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t pay any attention to something like that, but over the summer I built a new wood front porch at my house. Memories of hours spent at the “big box stores” searching through pallets of lumber filled with pieces of wood that should be burned, not sold suddenly filled my mind. So it’s from that perspective that I took a moment to look at the boards on the truck. I was impressed. The wood was well cut, straight, and smooth with very few knots. As my lane began to move I decided that I wanted to see who produced this lumber for future projects. The name on the truck was for a small lumber mill – someplace I’d never heard of before, but definitely a place that took the time to produce a quality product. “Probably too expensive,” I thought to myself as I veered left, heading toward my office as the wood continued to travel west.
It wasn’t long before I began to think about the differences between the wood on the truck and the piles of wood I’d sorted through for my porch. How could there be such a drastic difference? Obviously, the wood produced for the big stores was made quickly and in bulk, probably by machines designed to get it done without much concern for doing it well. I’m guessing there weren’t too many hands involved in manufacturing their boards because hands cost money and time. Conversely, the wood from the mill was probably handled by people who took the time to make sure they were producing quality lumber. They took the time to choose the right boards, to weed out the imperfections, and to make sure that the finished product was the best it could be.
I’ve thought about this for some time, wondering what comparisons could be made between the lumber and life. The pieces were put together for me yesterday when I heard a news story on the radio that made me cringe. Two girls in Florida are being charged with felony aggravated stalking as a result of their cyber-bullying a classmate who committed suicide in September. In total, fifteen students were identified as having participated in bullying Rebecca Sedwick online and at school over the past year.
After reading the article, my heart sank. Why did this happen? How could this little girl feel so helpless and alone? Why would her classmates wish she was dead? I was sickened, saddened and stunned. To what depths has our sinfulness taken us when these little ones for whom Christ tells us the Kingdom of God was created can do these things without regret or remorse?
There is a cliche we’ve all heard that says if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. Anything done well has gone through processes where attention to detail was a priority. Good enough was simply not good enough. Our children must be treated with this high level of attention. Our world has become fixated on programmatic parenting. Oprah and Dr. Phil feature a book on how to parent and we flock to read and follow the steps to create perfect, popular, well-adjusted children. We measure success in the number of miles we travel to soccer games and the number of bumper stickers we’ve amassed proclaiming our children to be honors students. And in the midst of all of this good parenting, we forget to make hands-on, active connections with our children. We accept that all kids stop talking to their parents in middle school. We allow our children to have smartphones and social media accounts at younger and younger ages so they will fit in with their classmates, but then we wonder how they can become lost in a virtual world. The sad irony of it all is most children search these technologies for love, friendship, approval, and to find someone on whom they can turn for support and answers: the very things God created parents to provide their children.
My prayer is that we as parents, educators, pastors, youth workers, and anyone who has taken up the calling to be involved in the lives of children will be more involved in the lives of our children. I’m not suggesting we do more, schedule more events, or buy them more stuff. That would be easy. Our focus must be on involvement. Answer questions, listen to stories, explain your decisions, hear their opinions, celebrate their victories, and above all instill in them the great gift of God’s never ending love for them. In Mark 10, Jesus instructed his disciples to let the children come to Him unhindered – freely and without obstruction. Not to buy them ice cream or give them a $5 iTunes gift card, but to be with them, talking, laughing, and showing them His love.
God created man in His own image, and then He chose to bless many of us with the responsibility of raising His special creation. May He build us up to be ready to do this important work, equipping our children to love God and to build up one another free of the sin that tries to hinder us.