Once upon a time, in a vocational incarnation from four jobs ago, I spent thirty minutes, four days a week, leading chapel services for a church-based Parents’ Day Out program. Monday thru Thursday, we prayed together in the main sanctuary of the parish, sitting on the floor in front of the altar. (That floor was infinitely more comfortable than the front pew.) At a time when I was slowly coming to terms with the idea of not being parent myself and letting go of some imagined realities, spending time with the Parents’ Day Out participants was good medicine, indeed.
PDO Chapel was a gentle way to start the day. Using a slightly modified form of the chapel service we used in our elementary day school, my little friends and I would share time with Jesus and each other every morning. While I never doubted that they enjoyed themselves during our morning prayers, I did sometimes wonder if they were actually… you know… learning something? Were they singing the songs at home? Did they ask their parents about Jesus or to pray before a meal? Oh, the questions a Chapel Lady will ask in the middle of the night…
On the Monday after a Thanksgiving Break, the Parents’ Day Out director and I were visiting after chapel. She had giant tears in her eyes, and I was immediately worried something was wrong with one of the littles or with her. She asked me if I knew anything about one of the kids in the program, a little boy we’ll call Ari. I said no, but asked if everything was ok. She said that everything was very ok, and that Ari’s mom had told her a wonderful story about their Thanksgiving Break.
Ari and his parents were going home for Thanksgiving for the first time in a long time. There had been a very painful estrangement in the family. The whole situation was pretty fraught with emotion and stress. And also Ari, a very active and curious three year old, was in the mix. No one was sure how things would go.
So, there they stood, at the festal meal. Someone called for the dinner prayer. There was silence.
And then Ari started praying, “THE LORD IS IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE! LET ALL THE EARTH KEEP SILENCE BEFORE HIM! OPEN OUR LIPS, AND OUR MOUTH SHALL PROCLAIM YOUR PRAISE!” It was the opening sentence of our chapel service, the one we prayed together every morning at PDO. That little guy went through the whole service—from the opening sentence, to the song we sang to say “Good Morning” to God, all the way to the Lord’s Prayer. This fractured family prayed together, led by this little tiny person, and fences and hearts were mended that day in ways that changed lives. The good news of restoration and redemption came flying out of the mouth of a little child.
When the PDO director told me that story, I cried and cried from deep joy and profound relief. Anyone who spends time with small children, either personally or professionally, will hopefully graciously admit that sometimes, we despair that anything of worth is being retained. But to know that this little guy had remembered the first and most important thing we can teach our children—that Jesus loves us, so much—that leveled me. Ari knew about Jesus, and Ari wanted to share that with his family.
I am grateful for every single second I spent on the carpet talking to Jesus with my little friends. Never pass up the opportunity to pray or sing with a child—the Kingdom of God comes near.
God bless Ari. And God bless us all.
When has a small child shown you the presence of God?