For of Such is the Kingdom

by Stan Mitchell
kids2.jpgA friend of mine tells of the day he went with a group of people to a nursing home, to the ward that cares for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Most of the residents were, to put it as kindly as possible, no longer there. Their stares were vacant, their memory as empty as a Montana prairie. They remembered nothing, knew no one, not even themselves. It was a heartbreaking experience.
What could the visitors do? What could they say? Because they didn’t know what to talk about, they sang hymns – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”
And something astonishing happened. These elderly people began to sing along! Silver heads perked up, feathery thin voices were raised in song. Apparently the earliest childhood memories are the very last to go, and these poor victims of this dreadful disease remembered the songs they sang in Sunday school. Their oldest memories, dating to before the Fireside Chats, before the Waffen SS, before that street in New York crashed – these memories still lit these otherwise dark minds!
And they say that children don’t learn anything!
Of course “they” must have never had a child. Children are high fidelity microphones, picking up every breath, every inflection, every tone they hear. When parents quarrel, they know; when ladies use language that once made sailors blush, they hear; when voices are raised in honor of an incomparable God, the sound and the words lodge deeply in the memory.
Tell an adult that God is right here, in our midst, and he will scoff. Tell a child, and he will say, “OK.” Tell an adult that he should forgive his brother, and he will set his face in stone and intone, “Never!” Tell a child to forgive his brother, and in moments they will be lost in their play again.
The Teacher said it best: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
We behave as if children are a barrier to worship, that their squirming and shuffling gets in the way of our time with God. Contrast this attitude with that of Jesus, who drew them into the very center of his activities. The disciples said, “send them away.” Jesus said, “bring them to me!”
Will you bring your children?
All of which makes me determined that we will put in our children’s memories things of substance, pieces of our spiritual heritage that have stood the test of time.
You see, the real tragedy is not when an Alzheimer’s victim forgets his childhood, but when a society forgets its conscience.

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