Some people saw “parenting” in the title of my post and never got further than the title. They are not a parent at all, or not a parent of young children, so they are skipping this post because it is “not about me.” At some level, that’s OK, since we don’t have to be universally responsible for everything. But children are not just a subject, they are not merely an activity, they are members of the body of Christ.
Children are not of age to make a covenant, so they are those kind of members of the body. But they are members by virtue, generally, of being present with their parents. As a result, they are the special charges we are all given to nurture into faith until they can make an adult decision to walk with Jesus with us. If you ignore them, or you don’t think they are watching you ignore them, you will not only miss your opportunity and shirk your responsibility to care, you may actually prove to be a detriment to their development. (Did you listen to Into the Woods last year?)
We are parenting as a community. One way or another, we will all be parenting when children are around in the church. This is how it should be. We are the family of God, after all. The church is either a great environment where everyone, children included, can be connected to God and form a secure attachment — or not. We want to be a church who…
- encourages everyone to care for our weakest people: the children,
- helps parents with their difficult and crucial ministry to their children,
- helps parenting households in an individualized society to develop practical ways to share their burdens
- opens doors for including new parents in the systems we come up with to share the load.
At recent meetings of Circle of Hope, we openly talked about how we are doing with nurturing this environment. For the most part, we thought we were doing pretty well. But we were criticized for letting children be invisible, and for letting parents get stuck in being isolated, as is often the society’s habit — since we are supposed to be self sufficient individuals, and, by extension, self-sufficient families.
Adults tend to go through our meetings looking for connections that please them and opportunities that satisfy a main question they ask of every circumstance: what’s in it for me? Advertisers have been appealing to this self-interest so relentlessly since they were born, that it is hard not to see it as a natural reaction. So they often look over the heads of the children (which is easy to do, right?) assuming there is nothing down there for them. They miss that children not only have things to offer as people, if you listen to them like they are listening to you. What’s even better, caring for children develops the love of God in us. Caring for the vulnerable and enlightening the lost are the main activities that expand our hearts to receive more of the Holy Spirit and become our true selves. It never makes sense to overlook a child.
A few years ago we began talking about “village parenting.” Mainly we were talking about the parents getting together and living as the community they are in regard to their children. Parenting can be so hard for most of us that we need our extended birth family and our extending family in Christ to come alongside. Many people don’t have a birth family who is available, (or who they want to be involved and making they mess they made the first time), so their family in Christ is very important. Many children do not have a functioning family or a family in Christ, so we are a great place for them to learn to attach to people and to God when we invite them in. “Village parenting” is an important skill for everyone to learn. It takes a village to raise a child in Christ.
Hillary Clinton made the point about villages and children in her famous book. She got her image from an African proverb but we got our point from Acts 4:32-35. We rewrote that passage for parents and have been working on doing it ever since. This wold be ideal: All the parents were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that their personal resources for parenting were the only resources they had, but they shared with each other. With great power the parents continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in their families, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy parents or children among them. For from time to time those who had resources of time, materials, organizing and imagination shared them. The little they had individually became more in God’s hands, so that all the needs were attended to. Even if you are not a parent, you’d want to get in on that, wouldn’t you?
God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. Last night Peter was telling us at BW that the Spirit is consistently delivering pure spiritual milk to us newborn babies who long for it. Following Jesus is all about family. A lot of people who may be insecurely attached to their own parents and who may not have a secure attachment to God as a result, like to make following Jesus into something they can control or do in their typically avoidant way. But Jesus redirects our outlook from our preoccupations and points back to the children, even the troubled child still unfinished in us or the newborn babe anxiously longing for spiritual milk. We need to be like a child ourselves, a loving, longing child of our loving, longing parent. When we are parenting as a community, all of us, not just the people with children, we are in step with God, who has made us with great instincts for love, which are often unleashed by those needy little people among us.