Jessica Bratt | Monday, April 23, 2012 at 6:58AM
Below are three of ten short reflections I wrote on the theme “Children and God” which are currently running in the Words of Hope devotional series; you can find them all here (April 16-25).
The Least and The Greatest Among Us
Scripture: Matthew 25:35-40
“Lord, when did we see you?” (v. 37)
On the same August day when 30,000 people attended Rick Perry’s prayer rally in Houston, over 100,000 people crowded into Houston’s convention center for the first-ever back-to-school event, where children and their families received backpacks and school supplies, uniforms, medical and dental checkups, and groceries. By mid-morning the building was filled to capacity and security officials had to turn families away.
Currently, one in every five children in the United States lives in poverty. Of course we need to pray for our country. But we also need to put our prayers into action. Martin Luther once noted that even the everyday, mundane task of caring for children can be one expression of serving “the least of these” (v. 40). Children are not only dependent on caregivers for food, clothing, and shelter but also on communities to advocate for them, to be their voice in the halls of power where decisions are made that will affect their safety, education, and health. Across the globe, vulnerable children are threatened by famine, war, natural disasters, human trafficking, and forced labor. They rely on us to seek justice on their behalf.
Bearing responsibility for children is a daunting but holy task, one that belongs not just to parents but to all of us. Remember that you were once a child too. And remember that Jesus answered the question “who’s the greatest among us?” by taking aside a child and declaring, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me” (Luke 9:48)
Learning to Trust
Scripture: Psalm 131
“Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (v. 2)
With the image of a weaned child, the psalmist conveys humble contentment in God’s presence. In comparison to the frantic, urgent cries of a nursing child, a weaned child gradually learns to enjoy a parent’s embrace in a new way. It is the difference between the hungry wails of a newborn, sounding desperate as though the next meal might never come, and the toddler who learns the joys of a contented cuddle and discovers delights beyond simply having her immediate needs met. A child being weaned may be frustrated that her instinctive desires for gratification are not being met. Gradually, though, she learns to let go of former ways and to trust that sustenance will come in new ways.
We too do not always understand why God seems to withhold the familiar and prod us forward to new horizons. Does the psalmist feel reluctant or relieved when he surrenders the need to understand those things that are “too great and marvelous” and instead places his trust in God’s provision? In either case, it is a picture of bonding, a glimpse of a relationship that is maturing. To calm ourselves in God’s presence in this way is to trust that our hungers will be met, to learn the soul’s equivalent of appreciating more than just where the next meal will come from. It is to experience God as the one in whose secure presence we will surely find rest. As Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Scripture: Psalm 23
“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v. 6)
I love Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 23, “My Shepherd will Supply my Need,” especially the last verse: “The sure provisions of my God / Attend me all my days; / O may Thy house be my abode, / And all my work be praise. / There would I find a settled rest, / While others go and come; / No more a stranger, nor a guest, / But like a child at home.”
God’s presence is described as a safe sanctuary, a home where a beloved child rests in the secure knowledge of God’s love and care. Unlike a stranger or a guest, he can let his guard down and simply be himself. Home is where we know we belong.
Whether your childhood home was a stable place where you felt safe and loved, or a place filled with fear or sadness, you probably recall yearning for a sense of belonging, of being wanted, of being loved unconditionally. You probably still want that. We carry remnants of our childhood yearnings, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, throughout our lives. Whether they’re our wounds or our triumphs, we may spend a lifetime trying to heal or to make sense of them.
God wants to be home for you wherever you go. God is the dwelling place where you are known, where you can discover wholeness in the midst of brokenness. May you know the deep love of the Lord who provides, protects, and consoles, and who always leaves the light on to welcome you back.
(Image is of a mosaic from Singapore displayed at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem)