I have borne witness to many things that have convinced me that God is at work, both in my life and in my church (Sterling Mennonite Fellowship). Usually these moments happen when I’m at my weakest or when I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. A few Sundays ago, I observed one of the most powerful moments for me at Sterling involving kids and their capacity for love and faith. But before I tell you what happened, let me give you some context.
Over the past few years, we have been putting a lot of emphasis on prayer in our community. As we become more vulnerable with one another, we are quickly realizing that all of us, no matter how well put together we seem, are struggling. We are all looking for the saving life of Christ. We have learned that prayer is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. When we pray for and with each other, we frame all of our problems through the life of Jesus.
The last few months have been particularly difficult for our church community. We have had more deaths during this time than in years past. Many people are going through unfamiliar situations at work or at home. Quite a few of us are struggling with our own health concerns and coming face to face with our mortality.
A few Sundays ago, we decided that we needed to spend some serious time in prayer during our worship service. We always share and pray as part of our service, but we wanted to do something more. We decided we would create space for people to surround each other and lay hands on one another (a community practice we see all over the Bible as a sign of healing and blessing). We invited our deacons to keep an eye out for those who shared their struggles and to make sure they were being prayed for. We had a time of silent prayer, and then our worship leader led us as we lamented and called to God for help, healing, and strength.
Our worship leader invited us to gather around people to lay hands of comfort and support as we prayed for hope and healing. As we were about to start praying, I crossed the room to lay hands on a friend on the other side of the sanctuary. I stood in the pew in front of him. There were two young children beside him and a woman on my left.
As we started to pray, I wondered about these two kids. It’s our practice to have kids attend our entire service because they are an important part of our community. But what were they thinking? Was this weird for them? We don’t do this often during our services, so at the very least it must have seemed a bit unusual. They just saw people gathering around and laying hands on each other without much instruction. I suppressed the thought since I wanted to focus on the person I was praying for.
Now I’ll admit that I’m not very good with always keeping my eyes closed during prayer. Even though I do it to keep me focused, sometimes I actually get more distracted with my eyes closed. So, I opened my eyes periodically during this time of prayer. And it’s a good thing I did because that’s when I experienced something truly powerful.
When I opened my eyes for the first time, I was struck by how many people had gathered and were praying in our sanctuary. The image of people laying hands on each other gave me a glimpse of the power of community. When I opened my eyes again, I noticed how emotional people were. There were many tears, which reminded me just how much people care for and love each other at our church.
When I opened my eyes a third time, I saw the two kids laying their hands on the woman in front of me and the man I had my hands on.
I was blown away. It even made me quite emotional. Sometime after we started praying (I don’t know exactly when) these kids decided that they wanted to take part in this prayer as well. Perhaps they were just imitating what others were doing around them, but I think they were old enough to make that decision for themselves.
I believe they noticed how vulnerable the people around them were being. I think they saw how emotional people were and they wanted to offer their support and prayers as well. They wanted to help by comforting their older brothers and sisters, and touching the person beside them with a hand was the practical way of doing it in that moment.
It’s no secret how special children are to Jesus. In Matthew 18:3-5, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Children don’t think or act like adults, and that’s a beautiful thing. They can approach life and faith from an innocence and confidence that we as grown-ups tend to lose. In their own way, they are capable of seeing a need and openly giving themselves without the many questions we sometimes ask ourselves before we agree to help someone.
If there’s one thing that I learned from this experience, it’s the importance and power of children in our community. And not just so that we can put on a program for them and teach them all we know about God. On the contrary, kids have a unique way of caring for us and teaching us instead. What we do with our children in church is not simply to get them ready or teach them how to participate in our services when they get older. They have the ability to be active participants in our community practices right now. The question is, have we created that space for them and welcomed them in?
Let us never underestimate the power of children in our communities. Let us never undermine their ideas or treat them as people who can only learn and not teach. Let us find places and creative ways to bridge the gap that exists between the ages among us. And, let us aspire to do this quickly, because kids don’t stay kids forever.