We’ve always prided ourselves as a nation that seem to care about children. We focused on kids when it came time to really get some changes made in the health and safety realm: lead paint; lead and other chemicals in the water; unsafe schools with asbestos and more lead paint; auto safety seats for children; increased security in hospitals for infants and children; and a desire to give the children the best education possible, all of which were goals that we had for our children and the children of the future.
It’s become almost impossible to read a news feed or a newspaper or even pick up a magazine that does not have a story somewhere about children, whether children in trouble from poverty or lack of basic healthcare, children who are exposed to toxic chemicals and waste, and whose health has been seriously affected because of it. We also get stories of children living in abject poverty, many them homeless, and probably as many who are underhoused in shacks without running water or heat other than a fireplace or a wood stove. On the other hand, we’re hearing more and more from our kids, kids who have been exposed to a form of terror most of us can’t say we ever experienced and can only imperfectly understand.
I remember atomic bomb drills in high school where a signal would come on and everyone would rush into the hall to find an empty locker, then kneel on the floor with our heads in them as a form of protection. I’m not sure how much good that would’ve done on in the long run, had we actually had an atomic bomb attack, but it was felt to be the best that could be offered at the time.
Flash forward to today. We have had almost two dozen shootings, many of them in and around schools, where children and teens have been killed, injured, or traumatized in such a way that some of them may not be able to recover from this. We tut-tut, send our prayers and thoughts, but then we demand that somebody do something. And here come the kids, the survivors and those who fear for their own safety unless something happens, and soon.
Survivors of the latest school shooting in Florida have stood up and said enough is enough. They have planned marches and spoken publicly about their experiences and what they see as necessary to be done to protect their safety in the future. Some of them have gotten some horrid comments and bullying messages about their stance, but they haven’t stopped their protest. Now teens across the country are joining that movement, walking out of school and marching to make visible their protest to the fact that their schools aren’t safe because their streets aren’t safe, and their streets aren’t safe because guns are easy to access, and anger is rampant.
Jesus said to “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). What would Jesus say about the plights of our kids – those who are innocent and those who are depressed, angry, and see no other alternative to violence?
The whole argument about how to make our kids safe hit me last Sunday when I was in Walmart picking up cat food, a fairly routine trip for this household anyway. In front of me in the checkout line was a man and a little boy who was busy helping his dad clean out the grocery cart, standing in the cart and very quickly and precisely handing his father each item without dropping it, spilling it, or missing his father’s hands. He had gorgeous big brown eyes, a cherubic face, and a cute little boy haircut. He was well dressed in a plain shirt and so was his dad. I asked about his age and his father said the boy was about 2 1/2. I looked at the child and I said, “You’re a very helpful little boy. You are really good at helping your daddy.” His comment was, “Thank you ma’am.” Ma’am? I haven’t been called that in a very long time, but this came out of this little boy, without prompting from his father at all. I was gob smacked. A child being raised with manners. It was so refreshing after what we’ve heard about teens going wild and doing drugs and disrespecting anyone and everyone, and even small children gaining access to guns and shooting themselves, a sibling, or a friend.
When they got ready to leave, I complemented the father and the mother on their raising of the child, and how verbal he was at such a young age. They smiled, thanked me, and as the father began to push the cart away, the little boy turned to look at me and he said, “Have a nice day, ma’am.” It suddenly made me think that maybe there is hope for this generation and the generation to come if at least one child can be taught respect for others and have a healthy self-image to boot.
I can see that little boy as one of those children on Jesus’s lap. He was one child yet for me representative of all children. He was innocent, clever, and very well spoken for a child his age, pronouncing his words clearly, correctly, and appropriately. His parents certainly cared enough about him to work hard with him to make sure that he was equipped to go out into a world where he might be a little bit different than other kids, but he was also being prepared for adulthood, quite a way down the road of life. I hope I run into him again sometime. He gave me a renewed faith in my fellow human beings, at least for a little while.
Jesus was about love, yet today it seems to be that one for one person’s definition of Jesus is the antithesis of someone else’s. Somehow, I think we need to find ways of showing the love of and for Jesus that we have received. It may be our best (and maybe only) chance to reach lost and hurting kids (and adults as well) and begin to rebuild that kingdom of God on earth that we all dream of.
Bless that little boy. I don’t know his name or really anything about him, but it seemed that Jesus that seem to shine from him. There was a sense of peace, innocence, joy, and hope about him. I wish I could shield that little child from what he’s going to learn as he grows older of people’s inhumanity to others and how hatred fuels the fires that produce violence. But then, maybe he’s the hope of tomorrow, one of the teens who isn’t afraid to speak up and speak out.
And a little child shall lead them…