I’m am not an expert on children or parenting or teaching or mentoring—I claim no expertise in those fields. One thing I have noticed, though, is that just as soon as you feel like you have a kid figured out, they change. Last Sunday our congregation celebrated the arrival of two new little ones. As we usually do, we joined their families in celebration and then committed ourselves to supporting the parents and being decent examples for the children. The babies were champs. The only tears shed came from adults. Then the scripture reader read to us the passage assigned for worship on that Sunday. It was John 13:33-35. It is not explicitly a passage about the nurture of children.
Nevertheless, in the context of our gathered worship it was impossible to miss the fact that here Jesus addresses his friends and students as “little children.” It was a group of adults, but he addresses them as “little children.” Just when we go to the Bible looking for some specific advice on a bewildering challenge—raising kids—Jesus turns the tables on his followers and call them/us “little children.” It might not have been the sort of practical advice those who care for kids are looking for, but I think there’s wisdom in it. Foundational to our capacity to engage the unpredictable is our willingness to remain “little” or to remain learners.
Jesus is heading out the door, but he takes a moment to turn to his friends and offer one last bit of advice. What he says sums up his teaching. He’s like a parent dropping his kids off at school and offering one last bit of wisdom before they separate. He says simply, “Love one another. Love one another just like I loved you.” He tells them that if they do that, people will see the connection between them and himself. The simplicity of the instruction to love is reassuring. The open-endedness of the if is unsettling. Yet it seems to me that those two things packaged together put us in just the right frame of mind to keep on learning.