*Some context to this post: Every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6:30-8:30, our property is open to the community, particularly to the neighborhood kids. A few of them come to have homework help, but most just come to make crafts, draw, paint, play games, and just be kids. We have anywhere from 10-20 on a given night, and most come almost every evening we are open. It’s given us a chance to really get to know the children in our community, and feel that this is our home too.*
I was playing a game in the living room with a couple of the kids one recent Thursday evening, when one of the other girls in the room called my name. She was hugging one of our 4 year olds who comes to community hours every night. He’s smart, unbelievably adorable, and can outrun kids twice his age; his little legs pumping double time and taking off like a jet. I was in the middle of my game when J called out to me, “Rowena, look at your son!” She was hugging 4 yr old G, trapping him in her 8 year old arms while he both smiled, and tried to squirm out of her hold. “He’s your son,” she said again, “He looks like you!” I started laughing, because other than us both being humans created in God’s image, that little boy doesn’t look related to me. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I was curious. “Really?” I asked her, “You think G looks like me? You think he could be my son?” She started nodding emphatically, and one of the boys I was playing the game with nodded too before they both chorused an enthusiastic, “Yes!” I saw the sincerity in their faces, too pure for me to continue laughing, and so long after they had gone home, I pondered this conversation.
It ended up bringing to mind a memory from my own childhood, when I was the same age as J. I was 8 years old, and some family friends were staying with us for a few days to visit. I remember playing with their son who was close to my age; we had fun, and I made a new friend who was kind and full of enthusiasm. Even now, those are still my memories of that family; of their kindness, of the comfortable way that my family and theirs shared time and space and fellowship. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I even registered their family being hispanic and mine being white. Not that those differences aren’t important as their own identity, but to 8 year old me, they weren’t important at all. Why? Because to a child, the way someone looks holds almost no significance compared to the way that person treats others.
I started wondering if maybe the kids at our house have that innate perspective as well. To J, the motherly love I have for G: the way he seeks me out first every night, the way I help him with homework, and crafts and games, how he reaches for me to carry him when he’s tired is enough in her mind to make him a child of mine. “Would anyone even believe that you’re all my children?” I asked J a couple weeks ago when we were in a group walking to the park. There were 10 kids with me and she had decided that they all belonged to me. “Yes they would,” she replied. “We could all be your kids.”
What would it be like to live in an adult world that views people the way children do? What would it be like to never lose the innocent love that we have for each other simply by living life together? Kids love so completely, something that we all begin to lose as we get older for many complicated reasons. We are raised in a society, a world, that conditions us to fear what we don’t know or understand. We are taught that fear is a viable reason to withhold our love from anyone we see as different from us. While thinking about this, a passage came to mind; pieces from 1 John 4: 7-21. ”Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love….Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar…And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
I for one, have grown up hearing this passage read a lot in church. It got stale to me after a while, as scripture can tend to do unless we allow it to have context in our lives. But this passage came back to life for me, and frankly, it speaks as a warning. There’s a lot of talk about love and warmth in these verses, but in the end there is a command from God. Not a suggestion. A command. A command as insistent as any that God has given. “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister,” and right before that is the warning: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar…” A liar. A sin as sinful as any. A liar.
I stumbled on a horrifically racist “joke” posted by someone I’m “friends” with on Facebook the other day. It had been shared by multiple other people I know as well. I’ve seen my share of ignorant and politically skewed posts from individuals who seem to be infected with the unfortunate “small town, small mind” affliction. But this post shattered them all. It broke my heart. And made me angry. And afraid. The people I’m afraid of aren’t the ones who look different from me. I am the most of afraid of the ones who do; the ones who look like me and come from homes like mine and live in my town and have never once wanted to open their minds to the possibility of a world that exists beyond their prejudice and fear. But I digress. If I choose to love, I don’t have the option of discriminating based on my disgust or pain either.
God has never asked us to love conditionally.
What would it really be like to love as a child loves, with eyes bright with trust and hands outstretched with grace? If we chose to put aside race, gender, sexual orientation, politically charged opinions long enough to chose to know someone as more than just one label? If we looked at each other within each other instead of through? If we could always see someone and say, “they look like me,” because we are looking at the heart instead of the physical image?
What if we simply decided to not be afraid to love?
The kids in our neighborhood see a lot of diverse people in and out of our home, many ages, cultures, races and personalities, and they have never once questioned it. They aren’t looking at the appearance. They are looking at each person as a person. A fellow human, another person made in the image of God.
So in the end, through the eyes and heart of of a child, when J says, “Rowena, he’s your son. He looks like you!” maybe he really does.
Choose to love and be loved! ❤