Working at church in Early Childhood, I spend all week preparing for Sunday mornings, when the campus is flooded with little smiles and sticky hands and tiny shoes. My heart melts as young families bustle through the doors, a bit overwhelmed and frazzled as they rush to check their kids in, get them to the proper classrooms, and head into the auditorium for the main service. I wonder what their morning was like before they arrived at church–did they wake up late? Did they eat breakfast as a family? Did they flip on Veggie Tales for the kids in exchange a few moments of peace?
After the wave of check-in chaos, children are settled into classrooms, and moms and dads somewhere on the spectrum between relieved and worried disappear for a little over an hour. There’s frequently the sound of a baby crying hanging in the air, but it’s usually drowned out by tiny giggles and squeaky voices. After some time in their individual classrooms, four classrooms of preschool-aged kids head into a large group time where they sing, dance, and hear a Bible story together. Each class is to be seated on an extra-large colored blanket with their teachers for the duration of the program.
This crew can be upwards of 100 two and three year olds, so it seems almost silly to point it out, but this large group time is a period of absolute organized chaos. As I stood by the glass door, looking in to the large group time one Sunday morning, I was struck by the individuality of the children in the room.
Some stood confidently, singing and mimicking the hand motions of the leader on stage for the duration. Others sat near their teachers, happy to be under the wing of an adult. A few intentionally sat off of their colored blanket, fidgeting with the frayed edges with their hands. When instructed to stand, some did; some who had been standing sat down, and others stood spinning in circles. A few little girls talked to each other and giggled together. Some little boys looked around at the room’s decor, listening haphazardly to the program.
At the tender ages of two and three, these children aren’t yet aware of who they’re “supposed” be, what they’re “supposed” to do to fit in. They just are.
There’s no ostracizing the introverts of the group who are content to observe nor mocking of the extroverts who move to the edge of the stage to be in the center of the action.
There’s no expectation of participation through singing and hand motions if a child would rather participate by watching under the arm of an adult.
It’s alright if one of the children is off of her class’s blanket; she’s still a part of the class.
Spinning, sitting quietly, dancing, staring into space…it’s all acceptable.
What freedom we would experience as adults if we lived this way! What if we allowed ourselves to be exactly who we were each day–even if it varied? What if we were okay with that person being a little different from the person we were yesterday or the person we will be tomorrow?
That is not to say that we should shirk responsibility and live by whatever we feel like doing; no, that’s no way to be a productive citizen at all. But what if each morning we woke up and decided to embrace who we were that day? What if we rejected the mold the world tries to stuff us into? What if we embraced our complexity and chaos?
What if one day we want to be the center of attention, loud, silly, and highly present, and the next we’d rather be more introspective and thoughtful, observing our world more than jumping in the center of it? What if that was okay? How would that change our lives? What freedom would we experience as a result?
There’s a degree of frustration I experience on days when I need to be quieter, but fear others’ confusion or coming off as distant and cold. Or days when I desire to laugh and goof around, but fear judgement for acting immature.
We are complex people with hearts that beat wild who aren’t the same every day. We feel a massive spectrum of emotions, we’ve been through a variety of circumstances and experiences, we’re entangled in myriad complicated relationships. Any given day can be a beautifully imperfect combination of the three–emotional, circumstantial, and relational.
So today, spin in the front row, tripping on the lip of the stage. Sit meekly in the back, mouthing the words to songs you wish you knew better. Stand by a friend and dance together. Sit off of your class’s blanket and pull at the frayed edges. Whoever you are today, you are loved.
“For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.” Matthew 18:2-4 The Message