I live in a corner of the world where children suffer. They don’t go without meals (that I know of), and they don’t live with incurable diseases like some children in developing countries, but the children in my neck of the woods have their share of suffering. Their parents live with diseases like MS and sickle cell. Their fathers are in prison. They live with relatives. They’re being raised by grandparents. Their siblings are on drugs. The life of children in Southeast Missouri can be hectic and it can be filled with suffering and I see it all firsthand. I saw it when I taught in this area as a college student and I see it in the grocery stores and in our churches. I see children suffering, and adults often powerless to stop it.
When it’s impossible to stop the suffering, you can still stand through the hurt.
A famous poem called “Footprints in the Sand” recalls a dream in which a man walks on the beach with the Lord. Across the sky plays scenes from the man’s (or woman’s) life–good, bad, triumph, and sorrow. Looking back at the footprints which went from two sets to one, and back again, the narrator wonders at the Lord, asking why He left him to walk alone during the worst times of his life. The Lord replies that he wasn’t alone at all, but being carried through those tough times.
We cannot stop every hurt that our children suffer, but we can ease the grief that follows.
I can’t turn back time for the kids in my Sabbath School and make their daddy not go to prison. I can’t reverse a diagnosis or heal a disease. I can’t will their Papaw to remember them when dementia takes hold of his mind. I can’t do this for my own children, let alone others! The children who come week after week to Adventurers and Sabbath School, who answer questions and ask for snacks, who sing their hearts out, and earnestly offer prayer requests–these kids are being sheltered for just one quick moment in the sunshine of God’s church.
When it comes to taking care of God’s children, it is important to “use kid gloves”. This is a term that many people may dislike because of our PC mindset, but it is absolutely essential when navigating the troubles children may endure and the emotions that drive them through touch times. If a kid in your group is having extreme behavior issues whilst the rest of the group is focused and on task, this is not a problem with your lesson, but a problem the child is dealing with. You may never get to the bottom of the root of the behavior, and oftentimes, you don’t have to in order to be supportive and loving as a leader. In order to show Godly support and love, what do we need to do?
- Ask questions
You won’t know anything about the children in your care unless you ask questions. Ask about school, family, holidays, favorite toys, trips, teachers, siblings…the sky is the limit. If you haven’t noticed already children love to talk! If you are asking the questions, you’re guiding the conversation and limiting interruptions also.
- Be ready for anything
If you are asking questions and following up with interesting thoughts, tie-ins, and reflections, then the children will be heard and feel valued. When you’re asking questions though, you might be surprised what you hear. Even if you’re surprised or saddened by what you hear, move past it and address it in a loving way. Add it to the prayer time by asking right then “can I pray about that when we pray together in a bit?” Or simply say, “Thank you for sharing that with me” and move past it. If you have a concern then you have something to pray for that child.
- Build a relationship with the caregivers
If you have a concern, there is nothing to do with it if you don’t have a relationship with the parent or guardian. If you have a child in your group that constantly has a behavior problem, tell the caregiver afterward that you are trying *this* method of classroom management and let them know lovingly that you care about this and you’re wanting to help. Ask about the kids and check in with the family between meetings. Right now we are out a lot for holidays, but I’d like to know how they are. I can do this by checking in on social media, sending a text, or giving them a call. Families also love to have a drop-in visit on occasion, or you can organize it with the parents to surprise the children.
- Remember your place
It is safe to say that parents and caregivers don’t appreciate busy-body prying or less-than-subtle nosiness. It’s important to remember that you are not a healthcare professional, nor a child psychologist, teacher, or behavioral therapist. In fact, even if you are one of these things you are not that while you are ministering to them. That means that even if I am a teacher, it is not my place to tell the parent that reading to the child will improve reading and even if I’m a dietician I should not tell a parent that changing the diet at home will help their kid lose weight. My goal and purpose as a children’s ministries teacher or leader is to minister to the children, loving them and their families the way God does. That’s it.
- Ask God to guide your ministry
The only way to minister to people on God’s behalf and to love them as God loves them is to ask for His help. Children are no different! In fact, I believe children can often be more difficult to minister to than adults because they often have big feelings about the things that are happening in their lives. Children understand love like it’s their first language, though. Ask God to help you to love them how they need it, the children and the family.
Have you asked God’s help reaching the children in your ministry or your family? Have you struggled to connect with the children in your group and the adults who care for them? This is a great time to connect! Consider this prayer, or make it your own:
I praise you for being the King of the World and the Father I so desperately need. I thank you for blessing me with forgiveness and making me worthy of teaching others your ways and your love. The children in my family, my church, and my community are Yours first. You know them as You know me, and You love them as You love me. Help me now to love them as You do. Help me see what they need this season. Help me to be a blessing to them in some small way that makes a big difference to their hearts and shine your love on them through ever small effort I make at home or church. Amen.