I am a bit hyper-sensitive about the whole ‘ask Jesus into your heart‘ thing for kids. (I’ve written about it.) I made a decision, out of this wariness, to studiously avoid any temptation to manipulate the spiritual journeys of my tinies, seeking instead to lay a path for them to follow to the God that I knew as Love instead of horse-whipping them down the straight-and-narrow. A big part of me has wondered over the past 10 years or so whether it’s ever really that genuine as a child, if it’s really anything but manipulation on the part of the adults, if it’s just a case of a child wanting to please an authority figure and therefore repeating a prayer. Who becomes a Christian when they’re four? Really.
But tonight, like so many times before in this journey of motherhood, all of my tidy assumptions went flying out the window.
Anne has been struggling for the two days she spends at daycare lately. It’s nothing major but it hurts my heart. (She just wants to be home with me all of the time.) Plus there are a couple of kids there that bite and hit, leaving her feeling vulnerable and defensive, especially for her brother. (Don’t worry – we’ve spoken to the babysitter and plans of action are abounding.)
Anyway, she came home in SUCH a mood tonight as a result. She was telling lies, being disobedient, throwing around an attitude that a 12 year old would envy. It was plain as plain she was exhausted and angry, sad and frustrated. So, finally, an hour before bed, I got her into her jammies and took her to her room for some quiet time. This was not a time for time-outs but a time to draw her close.
“So. A hard day today, eh?” I whispered. “Good thing we get to spend some time snuggling.”
She drew a shuddered breath and said, “Mummy, my heart just feels so full of Angry and Sad and Bad right now. I want those things out of my heart.”
I never took a children’s ministry course. I’ve never read a 4-steps to evangelism study guide and personally, I don’t know much about “The Romans Road.” I am distrustful of the Disney-fied ideal of ministry to tiny people. I can remember only one Sunday that I volunteered for nursery (and I use the term “volunteer” loosely).
I don’t know much about kids and spirituality, to be honest, and even less about how to do this “properly” or in a way that is, beyond a doubt, theologically sound.
But I know my girl. And I know her language. And I know her heart.
“It’s like your heart has a door, Annie. And you can open the door and let out all of the Angry, Sad and Bad. Would you like me to pray for you and kick all of those things out of your heart? We’ll slam the door and not let them in again. We can pray and ask God to bring in all of the good stuff instead to take their place. You can invite in Love and Peace, Goodness and Gentleness.”
So I laid my mummy-hands, strong and capable, on her thumping four-year-old heart. I prayed over her like I do almost every night. Then she said, “I feel like I need to ask Jesus to just stay there in my heart.”
She is a deeply spiritual girl, incredibly sensitive and insightful. She is well loved and well cared for by so many – what need does she have that we do not meet? And – this is the epiphany moment - and yet, even she knows that there is something in her heart that needs more.
How could I have forgotten? That He is living and active, moving and drawing us close, remembering that we all, even the four-year-old pixies, need Him.
These tinies in my house (and in my body) are a manifestation of God to me, my daily epiphany. They seem to have less distortion, less static in their frequency to hear God. They lend me their own spark so that my own path becomes less cluttered, filling my life with every day, ordinary epiphanies, stripping away my pretenses and ideas, simply reminding me that God breathes here.
It felt like we were not quite alone, laying on that pink-and-mint-green quilt and my heart was full of wonder and her eyes were wide-open-sky blue, looking to me for a confirmation that what she felt in her heart was real.
“Dear Jesus,” she prayed. “Will you come into my heart, too? Open that door and come right in here. You can take off your shoes and stay here. And thanks for bringing all of your good friends that Mummy prayed. I know we’ll be good friends and I love you. Amen.”
She leaped out of the bed, her grin so wide, it made me ache. She ran downstairs in a flash to tell her Dad about how JESUS LIVED IN HER HEART and now she wouldn’t ever open the door to anything else because “her Jesus” was there.
I have a very raw feeling of gratitude that I got to be here for this moment, that I am bearing witness to her own life unfolding. Because, to be honest, that’s how it felt – like I was watching something, privileged to be a part of something but ultimately, it was between her and God.
She’s sleeping now. And I’m sitting here tonight, feeling a bit like I’ve been caught in the bright glare of a spotlight for too long. Dazzled, blinking, wondering what just happened here and opening my own heart-door for a long chat about my own wisdom that has turned to ashes, the privilege of loving someone into the kingdom and how this seemingly simple child has just schooled me beyond belief – again.
And Jesus? While we’re chatting this through, feel free to take off your shoes and stay here awhile, too.
* I linked up this post at a monthly synchroblog. January’s topic, in the spirit of the season of Epiphany, is the manifestation of God. Check out other bloggers who are writing on the same topic by clicking that link above.