Wednesday, March 21, 2012

the rock to which we cling

Regarding my relationship with kids, I'm not exactly the ogre-ish Mama Fratelli from The Goonies, but I'm no Mary Poppins, either. The odd thing is that while I favor well-mannered children (and who doesn't?), it seems to be the mischievous rowdy ones that somehow fall within my shadow of influence. For instance, when I worked in Japan, my employer offered classes to children as young as three. Once I had established my reputation as the branch's most requested teacher, I used that to my advantage and negotiated out of most children's lessons. However, one of our regular instructors had some conflicts for a few consecutive weeks, and his classes defaulted to me because – as I later found out – I was the only one on staff who might be able to control a group of three-year old boys led by a wiry little guy who could somehow scale the 6-foot body of his British teacher in less than a minute. I remember looking at them through the observation windows as I made my way to the door. There was only one way to establish my presence, so I entered the room where they were darting and screaming, and I immediately stiffened my posture, hardened my face in seriousness and gave a sharp and effective commander's “Hey!” The chaos was stilled and every single little pair of almond eyes looked up at me in shock. I scanned each face like a sea captain who had just confronted the band of mutineers. From that point on, they were mine. Restricting their feral activity gave them freedom to use their indefatigable imaginations. I taught them “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” with exaggerated gestures, and they requested to perform it each week, their favorite part being when we would emphasize the line “and WASH! the spider out...” with a dramatic extension of our hands in every direction. Their exhausted mothers watched with pride and subtleties of wonder that the wild things of home were suddenly standing at attention when the foreign teacher entered the room. After a few weeks, their regular teacher returned, and I happily passed his former students back to him. It was a refreshing change of scenery for me, but I knew then, as I know now, that children are not my target group.

Which brings me to Tuesday night at our fellowship. We have a bi-lingual study there from 5:30-7:00, and it's been warm enough this week to walk the 45 minutes from my dorm. I arrived early and took a seat in the back while the music team rehearsed and did mic checks. On a bench to my left was a mother and her little girl of about three, whose delicate frame could've passed her for a two-year old had she not been so sturdy on her feet. She wore a lime green coat and pink pants. Her hair was straight, black and cut short so that her bangs fell just into the rise of her eyebrows. Her skin was pale and translucent, and she wore a tan-colored patch over her right eye. The patch hid slightly behind glasses that made her other eye appear disproportionately large, and the moment I saw her walking so carelessly in front of my seat, I silently crowned her the cutest sweetest face I had seen all week. She turned and noticed me smiling at her but didn't register any emotion. Her indifference was welcome; being a foreign face in China doesn't often afford moments of homogeneity. She made her way back toward her mother, and I gave her a subtle wave as she passed by. Again, she noticed but didn't seem impressed, and it's not in my nature to try to win over small kids. She went her way, and I returned to navigating through the alto range of the songs being practiced.

A few moments later, she circled around (again) in an aimless walk that only children can pull off without raising suspicion. As she passed by me, I looked at her and smiled at all the cuteness that she embodied; the little white boots, the puffy green jacket encumbering so small a stature, the miniature features on a porcelain face. She stopped and evaluated me for a minute and then turned and walked right up to me and draped her body over my crossed legs. She rested her chin on my knee and looked up at me, neither with sparkling curiosity nor with eagerness to play. She didn't move, and neither did I. We just stared at one another for several seconds, and then she turned her face so that her cheek rested above my knee. She was tired and had decided I was a good rock on which to rest. My left hand instinctively covered the back of her head, and I ran my fingers through her shiny black hair. My heart felt a special affection for this child who asked nothing of me other than to simply be who I was, where I was. She didn't expect entertainment, and she wasn't dumped on me by a parent who wanted bragging rights.

I looked up to see some friends of mine walking through the door, and when they noticed the tiny human starfish suctioned to my leg, they whispered, “Who is that?” I shrugged my shoulders and laughed, “Dunno, but she's been here for ten minutes.” Her mother had been watching and came to retrieve the listless child once the service started. I didn't protest but was a little disappointed that our tender moment came to an end. The next time I saw her, she was curled up next to her mother on one of the benches, dreaming little-girl dreams full of cotton candy, rolly-pollys, and pigtails.

This morning, I thought of her and how much she had affected me. My desire to suddenly protect her and love her were no doubt stirred by her quietness and vulnerability. In the same way, how much more does the Rock on which we fling ourselves release His lavish love on us when we approach Him with weary silence, simply trusting that He will be Who He is: a comforter, a protector, an immovable rock, a Father who reaches down and gently anoints us with His hand. Yet how often do we, instead, come with a sense of entitlement or the expectation of being entertained or amused. Our interaction superficial, we return to our lives boasting of His favor when, in fact, we have not known the fulfillment of simply anchoring ourselves to His satisfying presence.