Current volunteer in Philadelphia with Mercy Volunteer Corps
[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
I’m sure many of you have heard of this passage before, and how Jesus especially loves children. Since August 2014, I have been surrounded by little humans age 2 to 5 (“5 Things 5 Year-Olds Teach You” rolled better than “5 things 2 to 5 Year-Olds Teach You”). I serve as an assistant teacher for a preschool classroom at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries in Philadelphia, and I wonder if Jesus knows…
I wonder if Jesus knows the horror my troublemaker places in my heart as I yell at him from across the classroom to stop swinging between the chairs, only to watch him in slow motion – first ignoring me with a wide grin as he looks straight in my eyes, then slipping and falling face first onto the tile floor. A second of cold silence hangs in the air for him to fill up his little lungs, then the loudest wail ever snaps everything back to life as he looks up at me with tears and bloody lips.
Or how they test my patience every day with their sassy “No!”s, and doing the exact opposite of what I ask them to do.
Or what little germ sacs they are, touching everything and anything, and putting their bacteria culture hands straight on me (I must say, my hand-washing habits have improved significantly since I started working with them).
So exactly why does Jesus love these disastrous little humans so much?
Well, they are so irresistibly cute that it’s easy to forget about their mischief. On a more serious note, they somehow shine God out of their little bodies and bring His desires alive to the present, to the now in my life. So here are five things I learned through my kids.
*Names of the students have been replaced with a pseudonym for confidentiality.
1. Eyes for the “small things”
“Miss Graaaaace, I have a booboo on my finger.”
“Oh no, let me see. Where is it?”
And there it is, an itsy bitsy red dot you could barely see with naked eyes.
“Can I have a band-aid please?”
“Oh, I don’t think you need a band-aid for that.”
“BUT IT HUUURTSSSS. PLEASEEEEEEEE.”
I’ll be honest. When this happens – several times a day – I get a bit annoyed, and I give them a band-aid more for my sake than theirs.
But their little eyes that notice their little booboo’s are also the first to notice little cuts or scratches on me that I didn’t even know about. They stare at my tiny wound for a good while, and ask in a soft voice filled with concern, “Are you okay, Miss Grace? Does that hurt a lot?” In that moment, I could not feel any more cared for. And I think God intended for everyone to feel that way.
2. Life is full of little cheering things!
One day, we passed out tiles of various colors and shapes to each student for a lesson on patterns and shapes. As I was walking past Cole, I casually asked him what color was his tile. It took him a second to realize that it was “ORANGEEEE!! MY FAVORITE COLOR!!!”. He was so joyous that he literally couldn’t contain it in himself and jumped out of his chair.
Replace this orange tile with just about anything at any given moment. I recently saw an article that said preschoolers laugh about 300 to 400 times a day, while adults only laugh an average of 17.5 times.
Catherine McAuley, the founder of Sisters of Mercy, wrote in one of her many letters, “I would like to tell you all the little cheering things that God permits to fall in our way”.
It is often easy to fall into a trap of finding daily routine repetitive and fatiguing. To combat this, I began to look out for little cheering things throughout my day to find more joy and gratitude. My goal is to get as good as my kids.
3. Transformation is possible
“Repeat after me, okay? Es, aitch,” I say as I point at the letters on his paper with the tip of a pencil.
“Ey, double yoo, en.”
“Ey, double yoo, en.”
“Good. Now can you spell your name by yourself?” I anxiously ask Shawn.
“No, no, no, which letter does your name start with?”
“I don’t know,” answers squirmy Shawn with a half-embarrassed, half-playful smile.
It is beyond my understanding. We just went over how to spell his name about thirty times, if not more. And every single time, he fails to remember these five letters. What is more frustrating is that we have been doing this every day for several weeks now. With my hopes crushed and patience stretched thin, I wonder if I can ever help Shawn learn how to spell his name.
Then one day, I hear Shawn spelling his name all by himself. Surprised, I walk over to his table and I ask him to repeat it. With his eyes full of smile, he proudly recites his name out loud. In the next few weeks, he starts writing his name with backward S’s and a couple of letters missing, and in another few weeks, he can write his whole name by himself.
Shawn is not the only one who has shown me that transformation is possible. LayLay, who has given me the opportunity to change diapers for the first time ever in my life, is now completely potty-trained and Pampers free. My little two-year olds who started off the school year unable to speak anything are now calling me “Mitt Gwayth” and defiantly yelling “NO!” when I ask them to do something that doesn’t suit them. Sometimes I miss the good old days when they just sat quietly, but whenever I watch them talk to each other, I am in awe.
My kids assure me that slowly, but surely, transformation takes place. I have no doubt that every one of my students has the potential to transform and do what they dream of, and become whoever they want to be. It is so easy to believe that.
So why is it so hard for so many of us to believe in ourselves and in each other? Because I’m sure God feels the same way about us as I do about my kids.
4. How well God knows us
I have come to know my students by more than just their name. I know their parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunty, uncle, and godparents. I know what backpack, folder, jacket, shoes, sweater, hat, gloves, and scarf each of them have. I decipher their little whispering voices and call them out by name with my back turned toward them. I can tell which crooked handwriting belongs to which kid. Each child gets the same blanket to sleep with every day. I know who has asthma, who is lactose-intolerant, and who simply doesn’t like to drink milk. The list goes on and on.
Now, just imagine how much better God must know us if I got to know my students this well in just a few months.
5. How to welcome
Hands down, my favorite time of the work day is walking into the dining hall in the early morning when the kids are eating breakfast. They greet me by flying out of nowhere to give me (or my leg) a tight hug and looking up at me with a wide smile as if my appearance is the best thing that had happened to them so far in the day. Every morning, no exceptions.
From the very first day, my kids had no inhibition in expressing this kind of welcome towards me. Here I am, a complete stranger, not to mention the only Asian in the whole day center, and my kids either don’t notice it or don’t care.
Caring less about creating barriers between us and them with external differences – socioeconomic status, age, religion, sexual orientation, race, and whatever else – and caring more about welcoming others into my life with mercy is what I’m aiming to grow in during this year of service and beyond.
We may not be able to stop grey hair from sprouting out (which is increasingly becoming my problem), or be blessed with turbo speed metabolism and unending supply of energy. But we can all still be a kid at heart, right?