The children at my church make me smile. They are so precious and innocent, God’s special creations and the future of our world. At our church they gather in the center aisle just before we adults hear the readings from the Bible and the homily from the priest or deacon. They are always so incredibly adorable that I see all of what is most beautiful in the world reflected in their little faces.
On a recent Sunday there were two brothers among the group who could not have been more than four and five years old. They were dressed in matching plaid shirts resplendent with fall colors and the older of the two tightly held his little sibling’s hand with great pride. The love between the pair shone brilliantly throughout the church and there were smiles in abundance as we all watched the little tykes sauntering off to learn about Jesus in a lesson geared more appropriately to their ages.
The gospel reading and homily is always followed by offerings from the congregation for the support of the church. The children return at that time and have their own little ceremony in which they drop dollar bills and quarters into a special basket. Once again the two brothers captivated my heart as they proudly presented their gifts. One of the parishioners gave them an extra bit of cash to place in the basket and they went back and forth between him and the place where they left the donations. All the while the big brother of the two never once let go of the younger one’s hand.
Eventually the two literally danced down the center aisle of the church in an effort to rejoin their parents. In that moment I felt certain that Jesus was smiling along with the rest of us who witnessed their guileless joy. It was such a pure and beautiful sight.
We are centered on children these days, but not always in the most appropriate ways. We know that we can’t protect them from reality forever but it’s nice to enjoy the time when they are still so filled with innocent joy. They are watching us and learning from us even when we don’t even realize that their eyes noticing everything we do. They will get tired sometimes and not behave well. They may even make us angry and impatient. We have to remember that they are not yet fully formed. We must teach them how to manage their feelings and allow them to be open and honest with us. We don’t have to be authoritarian but we must set appropriate limits from which they learn how to direct their lives.
We speak a great deal about developing and becoming the best possible versions of ourselves, but we can’t forget the children when as we continue to grow. Once my own children were college bound I offered more of my talents to my work. I was able to stay later on the job and take classes to improve my knowledge and skills. I often saw little ones who were left at school at seven in the morning and did not leave until six in the evening. They and their parents were exhausted and harried. Moms sometime complained that their babies would fall asleep on the way home and when they awakened them for dinner and bath time arguments and cranky behavior dominated the evenings. It was sad to see how anxious so many families were because of the imbalance of work and home life.
I felt for everyone because I had enjoyed the luxury of staying home with my children until they were both in school during the same hours that I worked. We had the same holidays and the same summer vacation. They never actually missed me and even when they got sick my beloved mother-in-law came to the rescue to watch them while I went to work. My girls still talk about how much they enjoyed those golden days.
I know that children are amazingly adaptable to whatever circumstances become their reality. My brothers and I learned how to live without a father in the house. So too do little ones thrive in differing situations as long as they have guidance that is centered on their well being. It does not require money or extensive activities to build character. A wise parent need only model with love and integrity to turn a boy into a man, a girl into a woman. We know that we can’t keep them as angelically innocent as the two brothers who brought smiles to our faces on that Sunday morn, but we can make certain that they will one day venture out on their own with the tools that they need to meet whatever challenges the world throws their way.
I suspect that those two boys already have a good start. Their parents are preparing them emotionally and spiritually. They are learning that they belong to and are loved by an entire community. They feel the security and protection of each other in the grip of their hand hold. Surely they will know that God is smiling on them and rooting for their success as people. It’s a wonderful start.