From the outside, our youngest daughter looks like a typical developing toddler. If you passed her in the store, you would probably think that she is about a year younger than she actually is.
During her multiple therapy sessions each week, I get a glimpse that we are making progress on the long road through her developmental delays. She adds a new word to her vocabulary or traverses a slide on the playground with minimal help or can stand having her teeth brushed. These are all small steps of progress.
The one area of our life where she refuses to be identified as delayed is at our church. She holds her own hymnal and sings as loudly as her lungs allow, though we can’t understand the words. She stands and kneels to keep up with her three older sisters, even batting away my steadying hand as she tries to crawl up on the pew. And when the usher passes our row to signal our turn to approach the altar for communion, she marches straightforward with toddler determination, plowing past three older sisters, and almost taking out the kind couple in front of us.
My daughter doesn’t know, nor does she care, that her presence in worship is anything but completely pleasing to everyone around her. She is oblivious to my constant concern for her safety or her sisters’ irritation that she can’t quite keep up with everyone around her. She is going to greet our priest after the service and then chase the crowd out to the playground, with no label attached whatsoever.
What was the most surprising to me as her mother, was not the constant concern for her safety or even the concern that her presence in worship would make those around us uncomfortable. It was the profound example that she set as to how God wants us to approach Him. And that is, with the faith of a child.
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” ~Matthew 18:2-5
My youngest child reminds me frequently that if our worship is from the heart, then it is pleasing to God. No matter what this worship looks like, what form it may take, or if it falls outside my comfort realm. All are welcome in the Body of Christ.
And honestly, I think God wants all my daughters’ lives to grow outside of my comfort zone.
This lesson was driven home for me one Sunday at the altar. As was our custom, I led our youngest up to the rail, and then proceeded to gently restrain her hands so she couldn’t reach for the bread when the priest approached us. Usually she is content receiving a blessing, but on this particular Sunday she squirmed and pushed my hands away and let out a “Mine!” loud enough to cause every priest, lay minister, acolyte, and parishioner to chuckle.
After the service, our priest mentioned that we should let her partake in communion, since it was obvious that she really wanted to receive it. My gut reaction was a polite, but unwavering, “Nope.” Our daughter has a congenital defect that makes choking really easy, especially on hard food. Even though she had made great strides in therapy, my practical mind could not wrap around the risk of having her choke in church. It was more comfortable to let her receive a blessing while the rest of our family received communion.
The same show occurred for many Sundays to follow, until I recognized I was fighting a losing battle. Outside the practical logistics of allowing our daughter to partake in this sacrament, the bigger picture was that I wasn’t allowing her to participate in an expression of her faith. Even as a toddler, and not knowing exactly what she was doing, she was asking to be part of our worship. Because of my fear, I wasn’t allowing it.
I started to wonder how much of this cycle repeats itself as our children grow. If we are allowing them to grow into all that God has called them to be, as we promised at their baptism, why am I going to restrict their growth? Even with the intention of protecting my daughter, shouldn’t I be thrilled that she wants to take part in the Holy Eucharist? At the heart of it, am I more concerned that she will not be following my prescription for her life?
If we truly answer God’s call for our own lives, or support our loved ones in this calling, then there will be fear. There will be uncomfortable moments and hesitations and second-guessing every step along the way. At its core, my daughter’s faith and path through this life is not in my control, and that is true whether they are a toddler demanding communion or a young adult setting off across the world.
If my youngest has taught me anything, it is that childlike faith is at the cornerstone of parenting. We must trust that, though we may not see clearly today, God has a beautiful vision for our children’s future. They are God’s, and God will nourish them forward, well outside my grasp and illusion of control.