In the United States, four children are killed as a result of abuse or neglect every day.
Every 62 seconds a baby is born into extreme poverty.
Even though the USA really is number one in GDP, it is second to last in child poverty rates (ahead of Romania.)
It is not just our own children here in the USA that we don’t welcome. Who can forget the image of Aylan Kurdi, the two-year old Syrian lad whose body washed up on a Turkish Beach last week?
This is not what Jesus had in mind when he instructed us to welcome the little children, yet somehow this is where we are.
Most people find these statistics unacceptable. We accept children as people worthy of care and the best welcome we can offer. It was different in the first century, though. The disciples would not have valued children in the way that we do. Children were a drain on family resources, they didn’t contribute, and they were likely to die. A healthy goat was worth more. That is what made Jesus’ teaching so counter-cultural.
Jesus was not just saying that we should welcome the cherub-faced little children. He was saying that we should welcome the ones that nobody else values. When we welcome those who take more than they give, are weak, uncomprehending, and sometimes difficult, that is when God feels that he is welcome too.
I don’t remember where I learned this, but there’s an exercise I do. It is not difficult, but it has changed the way I see the world and the people in it. The exercise is to try to imagine people as they were when they were children. It is the quickest way I know to let true compassion take root in your heart.
Like with all exercises, sometimes it is easier than it is at other times. Some cases are so difficult that I have to start by imagining people as they might have been in university and work my way back through high school, junior high, and elementary, until I can finally see them as toddlers or even infants. Other times it’s easier. There might remain an innocence on the face, a look of curiosity, some child-like feature still on the surface. Whether it’s easy or hard, though, it is effective in cultivating compassion.
There is a child in each of us, like it or not. Some people are better than others at caring for that part of themselves, and recognizing it in others. I wonder, though, if our inability to care for the children in our society stems from an inability to welcome the children within ourselves and others?
How can you be more welcoming to the child-like spirit in yourself?
Can you learn to see the beauty and innocence of the child in others?
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China.
Image: Children clowning around on an IWT boat from Pyay to Mandalay, Irrawaddy River, Myanmar, 2014 Linda McMillan