Over the course of our ministry lives, it seems the Lord has continually placed Luke and me in an environment to serve “the least of these” i.e., children who are living in homes that are not just a little dysfunctional, but severely so. As in, they are lucky if divorce is the only painful visitation upon them. Sometimes the kids are keenly aware of how their lives are being affected by the terrible decision-making of their parents. Others seem to have no clue.
I was reminded of this once again while teaching Bible Classes to our elementary students a couple of weeks ago. During prayer time I heard everything from “pray for my dog” to “pray for my dad who is in prison and won’t get out for another 2 years”…”pray for my mom to quit smoking pot”…”pray for me because I’m in foster care and I really want to see my mother but they won’t let me” … “pray for my step-brother because he can’t be around me right now because I was right all along”. The implication of that last one caught my breath and I had to call on one of the kids to pray because I just couldn’t do it in the moment without sobbing. It is just about enough to make a teacher want to stop asking for prayer requests. The burden is too great and yet I know that for whatever reason I’ve been placed in their lives to share the love of Christ with them. For many of those kids, it is the only exposure they have to His healing. I’m ashamed to admit for a long time I whined about wanting someone else to take over this program because in my mind teaching little kids all day was taking me away from the “important” work of teaching women. Shame, shame, I know your name and it is Lisa.
By default of our church’s relationship with the school many of the “least of these” attend our Wednesday night AWANA and Youth programs. There is a stark contrast between the seasoned church kids and them. I am particularly sensitive where the “least kids” (not a fitting term but y’all get what I’m saying here) are concerned because I know so many of their stories and God help them, I don’t know how they are surviving. We were all in the auditorium recently and I noticed how the two groups naturally segregated themselves – one on one set of pews, one on the other. And in my heart I thought, “The ‘church kids’ were just one good parent away from a seat on the other side of the aisle.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of that. How it only takes one individual intervening in the life of a child to make certain they learn of the love of God, who makes rational decisions in daily living, who provides nurture and stability in the home and who sets high standards in school performance, etc. in order to give that child the tools to be someone capable of entering the world prepared to operate within it. It is the rare child who will outlive the expectations placed on him by a parent or guardian. The cycle is maddening. How in the world is a child supposed to function with the sins of the fathers piled into their laps and overflowing above their precious heads? How does anyone expect a 13 year-old to want more for himself than the most important person in his life wants?
I also teach Youth on Wednesdays so I’ve been on a perhaps unrealistic tangent about unity within the group and creating a loving, Utopian environment that will be a safe place for all the kids for one hour. Just one hour. Some days work better than others but I got my feelings on my shoulders when a remark was made that Youth would be so much better without “the bad kids”. I could have cried a thousand tears. I have carried that sentiment like a heavy, soaking wet blanket for days and yesterday prayed once again and begged the Lord to help me not be disappointed in myself for being unable to inspire the ‘church kids’ to love the ‘least kids’. Would you like to know what He said to me in a way only He can? “How can you expect a child to do what you don’t do yourself?”
What? Come again? Lord, you know I adore the least kids!
And then it flooded over me. All of the times I had labeled the parents of the “bad kids” as “bad adults”. How I had been so completely critical of their parenting, their mistakes, their badness when in reality they are just grown up children most of whom are simply living out the effects of having parents just like them. And grandparents just like them. And great-grandparents just like them. And what could have broken this cycle for them? They were just one person away from a different life. Is that one person me? Is the mercy God wants to offer them tightly clenched in my judgmental fist because I don’t believe they deserve a break? That they deserve their consequences?
Let’s just say yesterday was a weepy one. I made specific notes in my journal about things the Lord has shown me to do that will hopefully make up for precious lost time. Let’s not miss it, Church. Let’s not cause people to trip over us on their way to Him.
Instead, let’s be the one. Because when we are, maybe our kids will learn to be the one, too.
“Go and learn what this means. For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.
For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
~ Matthew 9:13