A curious story is plopped into Luke chapter 18 beginning in verse 15, where people bring little children to Jesus. We find it in between a parable about a Pharisee and a taxman and the story about a rich young ruler
“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. (Sternly ordered the Lord, Wow- that takes guts!) But Jesus called for them (Can you imagine Jesus specifically calling for you?) and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, (this implies a forward movement already happening) for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
It seems like these parents wanted the best for their children and the best was bringing them to Jesus for a face-to-face encounter.
The disciples however had something else in mind. Jesus, in their minds was the Teacher, the leader of adults, rational minded, mature adults. (Let’s just say this is how they perceived themselves… maybe not how they always behaved. Isn’t that right, “Sons of Thunder?”)
Jesus, who is the Teacher of the children, corrects the adults and welcomes the children. Luke inserts a curious phrase, “even infants.”
The cultural knowledge of the day was that until children could demonstrate their ability to reason, they weren’t completely human. Until they could prove their worth, they weren’t as valuable as adults. To be clear this was a Roman notion that seeped into the Jewish way of thinking. But most scholars concede that this was the cultural norm.
Jesus clearly will have none of that, cultural norm or not. He welcomes and honors the children, even the infant children, who were thought to be at the bottom of the social cultural barrel. This is not an act of cutesy pie pity or condescension; Jesus knows something about children.
Jesus understands not only that children come into this world ready to learn; he also knows how they learn.
And while it seems we moderns have ‘come a long way baby,’ (Yes, a Virginia Slims’ slogan from the 1980s.) we’ve not followed entirely in Jesus’ footsteps. If we followed completely in Jesus’ footsteps, if we believed that children were valuable kingdom inhabitants capable of deep thinking and feeling (Mark 10:13-16) our world would look much different.
First of all, in our churches children wouldn’t be relegated to the bottom of the budget or the farthest room away from the sanctuary. I know this isn’t true in all churches, but it’s true in too many. Children would be intentionally included in what is happening in “grown-up” worship. We’d see less entertainment curriculum, fewer adult monologues, more depth of thought and more listening.
In the second lecture in the Scientific Secrets For Raising Kids Who Thrive Dr. Vishton shares some startling research numbers. 70% of parents don’t think 6-month-old children are able to express fear or sadness. We view infants as blobs unable to communicate or interact with the world around them. Many of us are even unaware that our moods are perceived and absorbed by our children.
Research has shown that infants are awake, alert and thinking about the world around them. In fact in many cultures infants are potty trained at 7 months of age! (This is totally shocking to me. My gut instinct is to feel shame, but let’s go with humor instead.) Through a series of sound and sight triggers the caregiver and infant communicate with one another- it's called elimination communication. (A handy phrase I may have to use as I move into the second half of life.)
Researchers have also found that infants as young as 7 months of age can actually add and subtract, not in the linear equation sort of way, but they recognize and expect additions and subtractions. They have found that infants know something about the physics of gravity, about the types of sounds that go into images, about inertia and causation.
Dr. Vishton reminds us that while the infant’s body is limited their thoughts are very active. Indeed this is the time when our picture of God begins to form. As we bond with our caregivers what we know about God is taking shape.
And it seems that two thousand years ago, Jesus knew this. Jesus called for the children. Jesus very likely held the children and spoke to the children. I sure wish I knew what he told them. (Were the disciples too busy sulking to hear and record what he said?)
I can almost hear Jesus explaining the mysteries of heaven and earth and fully expecting the children to engage and understand in their own way.
· Dr. Vishton suggests that caregivers speak to infants frequently. Even when we think they have no idea what we’re talking about, still speak to them. Show them things that you find interesting and explain it to them.
· Early experiences are critical, but we’re not talking about “super” experiences. We’re talking about daily interactive relationship. Holding, talking, pointing, experiencing the physical world around them.
· Speak to your infant about your relationship with God.
· Begin now praying aloud.
· Check out Graham Blanchard books for infants. Enjoying these board books over and over will create the space for interaction and understanding about God and God’s kingdom. Graham Blanchard has taken the time necessary to deeply think through what spiritual formation in the earliest years can look like.
We are learning together, Mommies and Poppies, Omas and Opas, Uncles and Aunts, Amigos, and Teachers.
 If you are just now tuning into this blog series, it is a conversation with the Great Courses series, Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Peter M. Vishton.