Kehrberg: Let the children come

Mar 9, 2020 by

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I come from a line of children without end.
— J.M. Coetzee

Sarah Kehrberg

Kehrberg

My 16-year-old daughter is getting confirmed into the Episcopal church this spring. This would be fairly unremarkable save for the fact that she was raised Anabaptist-Mennonite. This means, of course, that unlike Episcopal babies, she was not baptized. Now at 16 she is opting to forgo baptism altogether.

In my Anabaptist-Mennonite experience, this is not the sequence of events one should take on their spiritual journey. How can a believer bypass the act of baptism? There is something deeply humbling about submitting to God’s cleansing love. Can one just skip it?

While fretting over this one day, the Spirit reminded me that there has never been one way to God or the church. Relationship with God, though strengthened and supported through community, is intrinsically individual.

This is hard for a mother. My desire to give my children every good thing knows no bounds, and I can think of nothing more good than God.

I thought about the story in which Jesus told his disciples to let the children come to him. The scene always depicts Jesus holding toddlers and elementary age children on his lap. Why the age cap? Regardless of their years, our children never cease to be our children.

Now that my daughter is only two years away from independent living (of sorts), the story reads completely different. Mostly, the disciples loom larger.

Why are the disciples never included in the illustrations? Why do we slide so quickly past them? The disciples are integral; because they tried to turn the children away, Jesus could demonstrate his power over them and the obstacles they represent

As a young child my daughter was rarely out of my sight or influence. Now she walks the streets of Vanity Fair with the rest of us pilgrims. There is much to catch her eye and her affections. Just as the disciples rebuked the children for trying to get close to Jesus, the cynicism and distractions of this world drown out the Good News of Jesus.

As her mother I worry that I haven’t done all I could to deliver her into Jesus’ arms. Yet while we are still far off, Jesus catches my eye.

It’s OK, he says. Send her over here. I will deal with these big bad disciples.

This is an important act of faith for a parent. Sometimes I wonder if I really trust that Jesus can speak to her skepticism and answer her questions. Can his outrageous oddness prove more interesting than TikToks? Will he correct those who misrepresent his teachings?

Do I have the humility to admit that God is working in ways I cannot see or understand?

I hope I can be faithful in bringing my children to Jesus, and when they refuse to go with me I hope I return with stories of sickness healed, miraculous freedom and sins forgiven. I will tell them of resurrection.

Two weeks ago, my 8-year-old leaned over during the Sunday morning worship service and whispered, “When can I get baptized?”

“In a few years. But soon,” I whispered back.

One week later: “When I’m 18, can I choose to not be a Christian?”

Oh, the mountains and valleys we walk.

When I close my eyes in prayer, I see Jesus watching us parents haul our children up the mountainside to meet him. I’m the only one who loves them more than you do, he says. You’ve done your part. Let them come to me.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in the Craggy Mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and three children.


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