Hope for at-risk adults
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
. . . People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
- Luke 17:1-2; 18:15-17
Children at risk. We see them on the news from our neighborhoods and from around the world, children in danger from violence and war, subject to the ravages of poverty and natural disasters. Then there are the young people who suffer from depression in this age of pandemic, or who struggle with learning disabilities or don’t thrive due to their toxic home environment. “At-risk” kids are everywhere.
But in these passages from Luke about children, we find Jesus turning the tables to speak to “at-risk” adults. Surprisingly, these adults are “his disciples.” You and I, Christian, are the ones at risk here. Concerning how you treat these little ones, Jesus tells us, “Watch yourselves!” Otherwise, we risk the displeasure and judgement of God. “Don’t hinder them from coming to me,” says the King, “or you’ll miss out on entering into my realm.”
First, Jesus tells you and me to beware lest we cause one of these “little ones” to stumble. I think of one of my grandchildren who is bright and incredibly perceptive. If we could measure EQ (Emotional Intelligence) the way we measure IQ, she’d be right up there in the genius category. I hear Jesus warning me to pay attention to the way I treat her and my other impressionable grandchildren.
Memories can either bless or haunt us. Most of my childhood memories of Christians are positive. I also have some negative memories of adults in Christian settings. But mine were mild in comparison to what some remember who were abused as children by those purporting to be Christians. Such perpetrators are definitely “at risk.” I want the memories I’m giving to the children in my life to be a blessing to them, not a curse, or I may be in trouble with my heavenly Father.
The second way in which I may be at-risk, Jesus tells me, is in possibly missing what kids like my grandchildren can teach me about how to enter the kingdom of God. For it belongs to those who are like my grandkids. “Becoming like children is not regression,” says pastor and author Mandy Smith. “To be like children is to be human again: awake to the whole experience of dwelling in bodies and in the world and unsurprised that we are incomplete and attuned to our need for something beyond ourselves.” Perhaps if I can recall what it is like to be a little child like my grands, I might be able to avoid becoming a hardened, unimaginative, and cranky adult and instead be as winsome and safe as Jesus.
They call childhood, “the formative years.”I wonder how God might want to “form me” were I to enter a “second childhood,” allowing the children in my life to teach me how to experience the wonders of the kingdom of God. May I pay better attention to learning from these “little ones,” as well as avoid ways in which I might even unintentionally hurt them. Perhaps my best formative years are yet to come.
 Mandy Smith, Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture, p. 38.