Pram service hand out ~ Jesus and the little children

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ (Luke 18.15-17)

The story of Jesus and the little children is one that can really capture the imagination of our little ones.

It contains an important truth: that Jesus is their friend, and that he will welcome them at any time. No child is too young to learn about Jesus, in particular the fact that he loves them and that they can trust him, and the people that our child will learn about love and trust from the most is us. The unconditional love that we feel for our children is a manifestation of the love that God has for all of us, and when we meet the needs of our tiny babies, not just for food and warmth but for comfort and company, they begin to learn about that love. The next step is to allow our toddler to become independent within a safe environment with consistent boundaries – and their next step is to push those boundaries to the limit, proving over and over to themselves that we love them no matter what.

Of course, we are only human, and there will be times when we do put conditions on our love – if our baby will only sleep through the night, or if our toddler will stop hitting his sister. Having small children to look after can be so demanding, leaving us drained of energy and patience, and it isn’t surprising that we can get angry, which in turn often leaves us feeling guilty. This is when our children show their unconditional love for us, and we realise just how much we have to learn from them.

As parents and carers of young children we will probably identify strongly with the mothers bringing their children to be blessed, and want to find a way for Jesus to touch our child too. Many of us will have our children baptised or dedicated in church. But Jesus reaches out his hand to our little ones every day, and it is good to know that there are things that we can do to help them to be aware of his presence:

· Many hymns, praise songs and carols make beautiful lullabies if sung at the right tempo. As we snuggle with our baby, we can sing of God’s love to them. The same songs can be sung right through childhood as part of our child’s loving and secure bedtime routine.

· We can share with our child our own stories about how we see Jesus, and how his love has touched our lives. Perhaps we have a favourite Bible passage, prayer, or picture. As our child gets older, they may want to respond with their own ideas.

· Reminding our child of Jesus’ love for us can be very helpful at times of upset. Whenever they have a quarrel at pre-school, or when they are unwell or have a bad dream, they can be reassured by knowing that Jesus is always with them. None of us is ever alone, and all of us – children and grown-ups – can talk to Jesus whenever we are sad, lonely or frightened. Some children will find it helpful to have a visual reminder of Jesus placed in their bedrooms, such as a cross, a picture or wall plaque, and older children might like to have a prayer card to keep in their bag for pre-school or nursery.

· Our little ones learn a lot about love through how we touch them. When we hold or soothe our babies, we can be mindful of Jesus’ love for us and try to communicate that love through our bodies; we could give our baby a loving massage, perhaps whilst playing some soft music. With older children, we can explain that Jesus has no arms that you can feel in this world, so we are giving them a big hug on his behalf!

· We may find that our child is responsive to the idea of carrying Jesus in their heart, just as they do other people that they love.

Becoming Childlike

The importance of the fact that Jesus loves us does not diminish in importance as we grow older, and the story of Jesus and the little children is just as important for us as adults. It also includes the instruction that we are to approach God in a childlike way. Often this is interpreted as meaning that we should become as innocent and as obedient as a little child in order to enter heaven, which may seem a bit odd to those of us who witness the spectacular self-centredness of the average toddler! We should bear in mind, however, that in the society of the time children were seen as among the lowest and least important, and so Jesus’ message (reflected throughout Luke’s Gospel) is that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the humble and lowly.

However we understand this passage, it is worth reflecting on what would happen if we did allow ourselves to become childlike (not childish) for a time. Many of us have probably found ourselves engrossed in making something alongside our child, yet we would hardly consider getting out some modelling clay or collage materials for our own use. This may be because we are conditioned to believe that such activity is ‘playing’ and therefore a waste of time for adults, particularly if we feel we have no talent for such things, and have no product to show as an end result. The same thing often applies to sport; many of us stop participating when we leave school because we have been told that we are hopeless, even if we quite enjoy running or tennis.

Children, on the other hand (particularly the younger ones) have no concept of talent or productivity. They live in the moment, full of enthusiasm for life, for exploring the world around them and experimenting. Anyone who has watched a toddler running at full pelt across a field, with no obvious goal in sight except to go as fast as their little legs will carry them, or who has watched a pre-schooler stick their hands in paint and smear it all over a piece of paper, the table and themselves, just to see what will happen, will know exactly what this means.

Somewhere along the way, we often lose our ability to experience the world around us, and even our own bodies and minds, in this joyful way – even to the point where we no longer sing in the bath because we can’t hit the right note. However, if we put aside our adult values, and try the things that our children enjoy for the fun of it, we may find it very freeing; perhaps we may even discover that we are capable of enjoying ourselves too! And, most precious of all, we can find that, as we paint or dance or play the piano, our innermost thoughts surface, and we can turn our activity into prayer, expressing ourselves through shape, colour or movement. We may even find that our mind becomes so free that we become aware of God speaking to us – which might explain why our children are capable of such joy.

For Reflection

· Re-read the story of Jesus and the little children. Imagine that you are bringing your child to be blessed by Jesus. What do you want to ask of Jesus for your child? What does it mean for you for Jesus to bless him or her? Jesus holds out his arms for you to hand your child over to his embrace. How does this make you feel? Talk about your responses to Jesus in prayer.

· How did you think of Jesus as a child? How do you see him now? Is there a special Bible quote, picture, or hymn that really speaks to you? How could you share this with your child?

· What activities did you enjoy as a child that you have given up as an adult? Select one or two to try over the next few days. Try to reflect on how you feel, either at the time or afterwards. Remember, the end result is not important, it is the doing that counts.

Handout by lowone