“Let the Little Children…”

The Inner Child

“I’m ready for my shower today.” One of the women guests greeted me as I came out of Manna House with the rest of the volunteers. We were about to start the morning with prayer with our guests. I had to give her the bad news.

“But today is Thursday. Women’s showers were on Tuesday. You won’t shower today.”

“No, today is my day for a shower.”

“Today is Thursday.”

“No, it can’t be.”

“It is. I’m sorry.”

When I left Manna House two hours later the same guest sat on the curb. She was playing with something in her hands that I couldn’t quite see. As I walked across the street, she called out to wish me a good day. As I drove off, she was still sitting on the curb. Completely occupied with her own thoughts.

Each of us starts as a child. I watch my five-year-old daughter grow and I am filled with wonder. She seems to learn new words and phrases every day. Her personality blossoms. She tries out the world around her. She is always asking questions. She spends hours playing, indulging her imagination. She is so full of promise and potential. She knows she is loved.

And I see a guest at Manna House, and I wonder. How did someone become so damaged? How did this person come to carry so much hurt? How constrained is this person by a world twisted by poverty, untreated mental illness, addiction, the powers of racism, sexism, homophobia? “What was this guest like as a child?” What happened? Where did all of the promise and potential go? Did this person ever know she or he was loved as a child?

I think of Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). In Jesus’ day, children were little more than property, the lowest or nearly the lowest on the social status scale. For Jesus to urge that children be welcomed was a revolutionary assertion. Those who were the lowest are most welcome, have great dignity, are deeply loved, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus gives a vision of how we ought to be in relation to each other, brothers and sisters of a shared Parent.

Sometimes my daughter says to me, “Dadda, show me pictures of when I was a baby.” I think she wants to relish a time in which the questions and challenges of growing up were less frightening. There is no doubt that growing up is hard. As an African American child, she is already negotiating and responding to the racism built into our society. She asked me the other day, “Why do white people hate black people?” And it is only going to get more complicated for her (and for her Momma and me).

I deeply desire a world in which we would enjoy each other in our differences of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, geography, because we all shared enough love, and those physical and cultural goods we need to live well. I wish we would play well with each other, enjoy each other’s company, be in a Beloved Community that reflected God’s deepest desire for our lives. I want us to be God’s children together, not hurt or damaged or oppressed. I want to see again that vision, that picture, of how we once were, in the beginning, full of promise and potential, fully knowing that each of us is loved.

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