At a recent summer festival my 3 year old Bethany and 5 year old Katie each received a wooden duck whistle. The organizers called it a “festival favor.” Isn’t there a law against this? Part of me thought, “Well, at least they gave us the whistle on the way in the festival instead of out. They’ll be on the ground in no time.” But they didn’t lose them. Why? My children handed them to me while they watched the juggler on stilts. By the time they were riding the “Little Engine that Could,” they had forgotten about them. I had a little fun on social media. I took a picture of the whistles and commented, “The festival gave us whistles. They thought it was a good idea. The children have forgotten about them. I spot a trash can. What is the ethical thing to do?”
People responded with some funny lines:
“Set them free.”
And another, “I always look to my minister to help me decide on the big ethical choices of our day.”
But then came one comment from an empty-nester that hit me upside the head: “Enjoy the noise while it last. One day it won’t be there.”
How might we all learn to enjoy the noise of children?
If you’re like me, there are moments where the noise can seem like too much. There are the complaints about shoes not fitting right, tears over dad pouring a glass of water instead of milk and the screaming throughout the house as cousins give chase.
There are many mornings that I get up early for some quiet time before our children wake. It’s not terribly early, but it’s early enough. On most mornings, I get 27 minutes alone with my coffee and a devotion book (I have learned never to turn on the television. No matter how soft you keep it, they have the ears of an owl). But on some mornings, before the street lamps have turned off, I hear the thump upstairs and I know it’s one of my daughters on a hunt for me.
Can I confess something to you? I sometimes keep it dark downstairs in those quiet minutes and refrain from taking sips of coffee. It never works.
The reality is that I know how indeed blessed I am to have the noise of children in my life. I love the sounds of laughter, running and chasing. On those days when it’s hard, I can’t get the thought out of my head: “Enjoy the noise. One day it won’t be there.”
This Sunday, I’m preaching on Matthew 19:13-15. There are children trying to approach Jesus. The disciples try to stop them. Children, in this day and time, were on the bottom wrung of society. They were hardly noticed. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Jesus’ attitude towards children was one of embrace. He welcomed them and made them feel like they had a special place in God’s kingdom. He lifted them up as the example for how kingdom-minded people should live.
Welcoming the sounds of children (and youth) isn’t just about the laughter and cuteness. Although most children have a loving environment, many do not. They come from homes where parents fight. They have anxiety about bullying in schools. Teen-age cutting and self-harm is on the rise. The US department of education reports that 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. Many children are not loved to wholeness. They never received the type of care and concern God intended for them.
As we think about the role of the local church, we are reminded that we are part of God’s family. God does not define family by biology. God defines family by baptism. In the United Methodist Church we make a commitment to children at baptism. We promise that through our example the children will be “surrounded by steadfast love.” God has called the church to follow through on this commitment. The temptation for churches is to be concerned about the noise of children and the rambunctiousness of youth. Children will be loud. They’ll talk during worship. They’ll run in halls even though we tell them to slow down. They’ll hide under the table at Wednesday night dinners.
More importantly, children bring life. Their innocence questions remind us to sit and wonder at the stars. Their dependence on adults helping them eat their meals remind us how dependent we are on God’s providence. My wife and I were reading a children’s story to our oldest child about Rosa Parks recently. She asked us “Why were people so mean because of the color of her skin? I don’t understand.” I had a hard explaining it and how it still persists today. Children provoke us to think more critically.
Ultimately, they need us to surround them with steadfast love. God needs the church to live out what it’s great teacher taught. Let the children come. Let’s embrace their wiggles and volunteer our time for those youth gatherings. The kingdom of God is at hand when it comes to welcoming the children. My friend on Facebook was right. I say let the whistles blow.