Every Wednesday I lead a Bible Study with a group of women (men are welcome but so far not many have attended) who range in age from 50 to 87. We look at the text that I will preach for the upcoming Sunday. Rather than prepare a “study,” I often ask questions of the text with them and then hear their responses. There is a great deal of wisdom and life experience they have to offer and, like me, they are not afraid to challenge assumptions and old ways of thinking. They come from diverse backgrounds and they represent diverse theologies. Being with them is one of the highlights of my week! Over time we have learned about each other’s lives and journeys.
Last week, one of the women in the group told us that her grandson had spent the night with her the previous weekend. Her grandson, at 7 years old, is a faithful participant in our children’s program. On the first Sunday of every month, we have our children stay in worship for what we call “Family Sunday.” His grandmother said that before she put him to bed the night he stayed with her, he insisted they say their prayers. She said he prayed for an older man in our congregation who had surgery recently and was still recovering. She said that at the end of the prayers when she said “Amen” he insisted they had to say something else. He insisted they say, “God in your mercy, you hear our prayers.” She said that he told her it’s how we do our prayers in church so it’s how he wanted to do it with her. She said he is very serious about his praying.
After the Bible Study I continued to think about how precious it is that this little boy is praying for people in the church, some of whom he does not know. I decided to write him a note. I told him that I had heard he was a good prayer and then I asked him if he would pray for my daughter who has to have her tonsils removed. I told him she is scared and worried about how much it will hurt. Two days later I received an email from him telling me that he prayed for her and he will pray for her again. He wrote in his email that he is praying that it won’t hurt very much and that she won’t be too crabby! In my note to him, I had mentioned that I hoped she wouldn’t be too crabby…In my position as a pastor, there is a great deal that moves me. Having a 7 year old boy who is committed to praying for something that is of great concern to me is at the top of the list. When I picture his face and knowing how serious he can be, I am deeply moved.
Over the years I have heard so many parents who don’t go to church say that they don’t want their kids to be brainwashed by religion and that’s why they don’t attend. What I often say in the midst of those conversations is that my experience has been that many children are naturally curious about God and the world and people and love. When you take them to church and encourage their involvement, you are teaching them a base language. Their are many different languages spoken when it comes to God. If children are not given any language, they are much less able as they get older to join in any of the conversations. If you give them a language, you can count on the fact that that language will change and develop based on their context and culture and life experience. I believe it is the responsibility of parents to equip children with the basic language. Whether it’s Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or Universalism is not nearly as important as simply learning the language in order to be able to engage in the conversation. Obviously, I would encourage parents to find a faith community that is open, that allows for questioning and doubting, that allows for diversity of belief and experience, and that welcomes children without trying to imprint them with dogma.
By the time this little 7 year old boy becomes an adult, he will have forgotten all about me and about having prayed for my daughter. But imprinted on his soul is the knowledge and experience that when he is worried about something or joyful about something, he can turn to God and express himself. His prayers will undoubtedly change a great deal by the time he becomes a teenager and then an adult. But he’ll understand that part of what it means to be the church is that we care about the things that concern others. When the children stay in worship, even if only for one Sunday a month, they are learning far more than we realize.