Surrounding Children with the Love of God Matters
Last week I mentioned that we are asking members of our congregation to respond to questions like the following: “Why does St. Timothy’s matter to me?” “Why do I need the church?” “What one moment best exemplifies what this church is for you?” As I began inviting people to share, I also started inviting people who grew up in the church and now live in other parts of the city or country. These people were all young teenagers when I arrived here in the early ‘90s.
I must admit that part of my motivation in asking them was my own curiosity about whether growing up in the church had made any difference in their lives. I have always said that the hardest job in the church is working with teenagers. As kids become older, they begin to question their involvement in the church. “Why are my parents making me do this?” Some sit in a Sunday service or a youth group meeting and the body language tells you everything you need to know. Some go through the confirmation preparation process and then decide not to be confirmed.
Parents struggle with how to navigate this chapter of their child’s life in the church. Most eventually just get worn down. When all is said and done, many parents assume they have failed and wonder if they did something wrong.
What have I learned so far from the people I have asked? Two things: First, everyone has been eager to respond. Secondly, everyone has talked about the love they received in this church. They have talked about being accepted as they are. As one young mother put it, they have talked about discovering “the infinite love of God and that love being the source of everything they do.” For everyone, the community—God’s love in flesh and blood people—was key. It wasn’t theological doctrine. It was God made real in the lives of others.
I often tell parents who are struggling with raising their children in the faith that they probably won’t see the impact of their efforts until years after their children leave home. Of course, we may never know what impact the church had on them. However, God’s love made flesh is infectious. When someone is loved that love is not forgotten. They will long for more of that. When our children are part of a community that loves one another, scripture tells us that God lives in them (1 John 4:12).
The best thing any church can do for children is love them extravagantly. In doing so, we show them an alternative way of living that will change them and others.