Filling Their Backpacks

Expertly sandwiched in Mark 10—between a teaching on divorce and a rich, young man’s naïveté—there stands a lesson on the littlest among us. Parents and caregivers bring their children to Jesus, just to have him touch them, and the disciples nearby rebuke them for doing so. How does Jesus react? He is indignant! As in, showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment. Like a hen fluttering over chicks, he descends upon the children to defend them. The disciples may have grown up under the adage “children are to be seen and not heard,” but Jesus reveals that children were created to be seen and to be heard. Jesus welcomes people as they are, and children are not the exception. It doesn’t matter if they have never heard of him, or they grew up on the wrong (or right) side of the tracks, or they smell funny because their mom uses their bathtub as a kitty litter box. Jesus takes them in his arms and blesses them. He lays his hands on them.

Our local Early Childhood teacher, Ms. Stacie, shares the illustration that each parent has a backpack in which we place our tools for parenting. Tools begin to be placed inside our backpacks when we are still children. We instinctively pull them out later as we make parenting decisions. In any given parenting situation, we reach behind us into our backpacks to grab the appropriate tool for the job. Toddler hitting the baby? Time-out. Preschooler throwing food? Mealtime is over. Talking back to mom? A spoonful of vinegar. As we continue into our Christian walk, we keep adding more tools to our backpacks that are knee-jerk methods we learned from childhood, tricks we’ve learned from our parents, or methods we’ve gleaned from reading parenting hacks.

At this moment, our children’s backpacks are filling up.

Some tools are placed inside their backpacks for them, such as their baptism. Psalm 51:5 shares King David’s wisdom, in that, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” So we bring our children to the baptismal font knowing that it isn’t “one and done” to get to heaven—but God will work through each baptism according to his will. Each baptism is a precious gift, but whether or not the gift is used will vary with the individual. Other tools for their backpacks include family traditions; what flavor of church they attend (or not); whether their parents lean crunchy, silky, or scrunchy (look it up); and, the value placed on holy communion or the sanctity of marriage.

Other tools are picked up by the child and placed inside their backpacks for future use, such as their integrity, work ethic, and education. And as they watch us parent, they pick up on discipline techniques and positive reinforcement strategies, not to mention their Christian influences such as their Confirmation and views on prayer—that is, is prayer just for church, or used every day in life?

When children leave our homes, are they equipped for their Christian walk? Were they given access to every kind of useful tool? Did we let the children go to Jesus, or did we place dead weight in their backpacks and hinder them? In the end, all we can do is our best to provide our children with every opportunity to fill their backpacks with good tools for Christian living. If only it were as simple as the sprinkling of baptism to guarantee their eternal salvation—who wouldn’t agree to that? But it’s not that simple. At the moment, I know of Christian parents who grieve for their unsaved children. Of a father who grieves his son’s alt religious group. Some parents pray that their children will have good jobs and faithful spouses, but they end up unemployed and divorced. Did those parents pray for their children the wrong way, or not enough?

Well, how did Jesus teach us to pray? A tool he provided for us is found in the Lord’s Prayer. Let us pray that over our children and entrust them to the Creator.

For he said, “Let the children come to me.” Give them chances, opportunities, and submerge them in him. Don’t wait for them to “behave” to bring them to him, or to be “old enough to understand,” lest you risk Jesus’ indignation. And parents, do not beat yourself up over your child’s behavior in church. Getting through a Sunday service can quite literally feel like a marathon. Church services are exhausting. Oftentimes, I wonder why I even bother going at all, when I am constantly prevented from listening. But it’s not just about me. It’s about them, so they can have an opportunity to hear about the kingdom of heaven.

And I know that many of you seasoned parents can attest to this better than I. Almost overnight, it seems like they go from picking their noses and doing push-ups on a pew bench during closing prayers (this may have happened to me last week) to praying the most honest, heartfelt prayers to their Heavenly Father at bedtime. Provide them with the tools. Yes, bring them to Jesus as they are; for he takes them as they are, hugs them in his arms, and blesses them.
Ashley Krog is a member and pastor’s wife at Elim Lutheran Brethren Church in Clearbrook, MN. She and her husband Adam are blessed with four children.

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