Have you heard the story of the little boy who ran up on stage when Pope Francis was speaking, and then refused to leave?
If not, please check out this video.
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The Pope’s response is remarkable.
According to news reports, the little boy escaped from his parents and they were unable to rein him back in. Security officers tried to lure the boy away from the stage, but he was persistent. He stuck close to the Pope, and even decided at one point to sit down in the papal chair.
As the mother of unpredictable children, including one who can never be “reined in,” I can only imagine what the parents of the little boy were thinking. I’m sure they were mortified.
Yet, one stubborn little boy–and the Pope who welcomed him–have blessed the entire world with their actions.
This has happened before.
“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'” –Matthew 19:13-14
We in our Christian communities like to talk some big talk about inclusion. We know the right answers and viewpoints, and we know how to dance around core issues to make ourselves sound more “Christlike.” We say that anyone and everyone is welcome.
But how we behave shows what we really believe.
The truth is, we’re all in favor of welcoming kids–or grownups for that matter–who fit into our notions of whatever is acceptable in our culture or subculture.
In evangelical circles, we tend to prefer children who are well-behaved, well-groomed, smart, always respectful, still, and relatively quiet.
This churchy scenario works fine. . . until a child comes along who isn’t those things. What do we do then?
I’ve seen this sequence of events play out, with my own child and with other children in the church who don’t “fit the mold,” and it’s not pretty.
Just a few examples I know of include:
- parents who were told their child couldn’t participate in a musical program because she “just wasn’t ready” to be on stage with the other kids.
- a pre-teen who was not allowed to go to camp without one of her parents there to keep a close grip on her.
- a young teenager who was told that she would not be permitted to go on any more church-sponsored youth trips. Ever.
- an autistic child who was invited to go on a church sponsored trip. . . and then was promptly ignored by all the other children AND adults as he sat alone during a meal.
Things would definitely be easier for the church if we could rewrite Jesus’ words to fit our behavior. But Jesus didn’t say, “Let all the well-behaved and clean-smelling children come to me.” He just said “children.” And left it at that.
Let All the Children Come
I have the privilege of teaching babies and toddlers every week in my Kindermusik classes. It is amazing to watch little personalities emerge. All babies are different.
Some are shy and stick close to their mothers. Others like to explore and wander around a bit. Some like to play the instruments, and a few like to dump them all out. And there are always a handful of toddlers who prefer just to run like crazy and refuse to listen to their adult’s urgent pleas to stop.
It’s easy to see the looks in the parents’ eyes.
The looks of worry and concern when a child doesn’t behave the way the parent hopes he will. When a toddler hurts another toddler. When a three year old sits too quietly and doesn’t seem to be getting anything out of class at all.
I do my best to reassure them all. Because every child is different. Every person is different. Some of us are more laid back and easy-going. Others are more “high-maintenance.”
But we’re all people.
And they are all children. Made in God’s image.
God loves every single one.
He made them with those unique personalities. Stubborn streaks and all.
Why are we so afraid to include and welcome and even, dare I say it, love the ones who make us uncomfortable?
When it comes to my difficult child, I’ve heard all the excuses.
- “He frightens the other children.”
- “He’s too difficult to manage.”
- “He needs more individual attention than we can offer.”
- “We’re not trained to handle children like him.”
- “We’re only volunteers.”
A part of me agrees. I deal with my son and all of his issues on a daily basis. I know better than anyone how difficult he is.
But I also know how wonderful he is.
And unfortunately, I’m painfully aware of how, at the ripe old age of nine, he knows the sting of rejection and the heartache of being teased and taunted. I know how he prays every night for God to help him “be a better boy.” He craves the acceptance that always seems to be just out of reach. And he desperately longs to be loved and received and delighted in just as much, and maybe even more, than other children.
Pope Francis’s response to the little boy who wouldn’t be stopped is nothing short of thrilling to a momma like me. He painted a vivid real-time picture of Christ that brings tears to the eyes and wraps around my heart like a warm blanket on a chilly night.
He reminds me that there is hope.
Hope for the church and hope for the world.
Even hope for all those who would rather throw their hands in the air and give up than accept a child like mine.
The Pope especially reminds me that there is hope for my “difficult” little boy.
Jesus says, “Let them come to me. Don’t hold them back. My kingdom belongs to these little ones.”
Thank you, Pope Francis.
May the body of Christ see with our heart’s eyes your display of Jesus’ love.
And by God’s grace may we follow suit.
Photo credit: www.thecatholiccatalogue.com