“Kids are just fearless,” he said a few years ago, shaking his head at how beautifully and bravely our team of fifth graders had led us in litanies and prayers and scripture reading on Children’s Sabbath. I knew what my friend was getting at, that it takes a lot of gumption to get up in front of over 600 people and stand behind the pulpit, LET ALONE AT TEN YEARS OLD, but I had to disagree. “Oh no, they’re not fearless. Most of them were scared to death.”
I had seen it at rehearsal the day before. Even though it happened every year, I crossed my fingers and prayed a prayer inside my head that we would get through this. That no one would faint or throw up on the platform. (Did they keep a mop back there? The domino effect is real. It could get ugly fast.) I knew we’d be fine, I knew it-I really did- but I still prayed the prayer.
We gathered that Saturday morning, practicing to empty pews, and I preached my standard sermon to the kids that our sanctuary is full of people who love them like crazy, that God loves them like crazy, and that they were making sacred space for God to do God’s work and DO YOU KNOW HOW WONDERFUL THAT IS? DO YOU? I told them they were basically floating in a love bath, they’re up near the faucet, where God turns it on, that they were getting soaked in God’s love even though they can’t see it because it’s invisible but trust me, it’s all over you. Then I decided it was time to stop gushing and reminded them to S L O W D O W N when they speak- to talk like a sloth up a tree in Madagascar would speak if it could speak English- because we all speed up when we’re nervous. Speak unreasonably loud, I added, as if you’re talking to your great grandmother who left her hearing aids on her nightstand, because she just might have and the sound booth can raise your volume only so much. That’s when I noticed that one of my cheeriest, happiest children was turning green and and biting her fingernails as if they were an ear of corn.
When it was her turn to offer her prayer, one she had written herself and shown to me and was so lovely and true that it made goosebumps rise all over my body and made me utter another thank you prayer to God that I get to witness bare beauty like this, she stood behind the pulpit, mute. “Whenever you’re ready,” I said, in my calmest, most comforting voice possible. “We have plenty of time.” Still nothing.
“Oh! Oh it’s okay,” I said and hugged her. Her friends joined me. “It’s okay! We’re all scared! You can do it!”
We gave her a moment to collect herself and let someone else practice, and then I asked her if she was ready to try again. “We’ll stand with you,” said a friend. (THESE KIDS JUST KILL ME SOMETIMES.) So we stood with her and she read it beautifully and everyone cheered when she was done, including God. (I could feel it!)
As I sat in my chair behind the pulpit during worship the next day, I prayed the whole time as her prayer got nearer. To be honest, I also thought about the fact that I never did check to see if there was a mop bucket in the back alcove and why couldn’t I remember things like that, just in case?
Finally it was her turn. She walked to the pulpit in small slow steps. I prayed harder and got ready to rise and stand next to her if she needed me. I noticed her friends watching, cheering her on inside their heads. Were they praying too? She stood a moment.
Then she prayed her beautiful prayer to the hundreds of adults, in a slow, loud voice. I couldn’t resist. I opened my eyes to watch her standing there on a wooden box behind the pulpit so that she could reach the microphone, leading us all to God’s feet.
It was breathtaking.
This year I asked the parents of our young leaders of Children’s Sabbath to ask their children what their experience was like and why they think our church does Children’s Sabbath every year. My friend Hayden said, “To teach children how it is to lead our church, and to feel God helping us, through every step.” Isn’t that lovely? Yes! We all felt God helping us, through every step. That’s why I’ll never give up on the church. As flawed as it sometimes is, it’s where we splash around in God’s love bath, enjoying God’s grace. And it’s where we find people who’ll stand next to us, praying us through the times when we’re scared to death or sad to death or so troubled that we think we can’t make it. And our friends encircle us, raising our volume to God’s ears.
Fearless? No. They stand in the fear and refuse to let it win. And God and their friends stand with them. I’m so lucky that I get a front row seat to watch.
Love and peace to you!