We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to the acceptance of loud, energetic, and spirited children inside the church. It’s easy to preach (pun intended) acceptance of every individual as God made them, but when a 9-year-old is shouting out, repeatedly during a sermon, or a 6-year-old is jumping from one pew to the next during the prelude, that’s when reality sets in.
You hear the elderly man behind you whisper to his wife, “Back in my day, children were seen and not heard, what’s wrong with kids these days?”
Then the single, 30-something across the way mutters under her breath, “Haven’t they ever heard of the fruits of the spirit?”
You get advice from well-meaning members of your congregation, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” encouraging you to spank your child because they “won’t behave.”
But you know in your heart it’s not that they won’t behave—it’s that their brains are wired differently and they can’t behave the way the world is expecting them.
It’s enough to break your mama heart wide open and possibly even swear off church entirely.
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In a world that loves a highlight reel, it’s easy to take these kids at face value without understanding what’s going on behind the scenes (in their brains). But the clique is true, you “never really know what someone is dealing with” unless you get curious and become a safe space for them to truly share their whole self with you.
We have to stop assuming everyone is the same and that all kids are capable of behaving and performing at the same level in all areas. There is an entire community of children (and adults) that falls under the neurodiverse umbrella, and they are absolutely amazing individuals. They just may think, act, and speak, a little differently than the rest of the world.
And when we try to put them in our societal boxes, we are doing them—and ourselves by not getting to know them better—a huge disservice. It’s not our job or our place to find ways to get them to conform to our way of living, it’s our job to recognize and celebrate their unique gifts the same way we desire for our own gifts to be celebrated.
But don’t take my word for it.
If you need a little scriptural convincing, I’ve got your back. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139: 13-14).
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God doesn’t make mistakes. He made these kids exactly as he saw fit, quirks and all. That headstrong kid who likes to be wild and free was made like that on purpose, for a purpose. (That purpose might be challenging his mother’s need to control all things as a way to control her own anxiety so that she didn’t have to deal with it for years, so she finally learns to heal those old wounds . . . not that I’m speaking from experience here!)
Let me say it again: God doesn’t make mistakes.
It’s time for us to stop putting our own toxic upbringings on the children of the church and learn to embrace who they truly are. It’s time to let them be little, let them be loud, let them be wild and free.
Yes, teach them the fruits of the spirit but also teach them they are good and worthy, just as the day they were born, and they do not need to do anything to earn the love of their Father or the world around them. It’s time to teach them there will be people in life who don’t understand them, maybe don’t like them, but that within the walls and the community of the church, they are safe and loved—unconditionally, regardless of how their incredible little brains work.
There may be a lot of unsafe places in this world, but the church should always be a safe place for our children to truly be themselves.