"I was little back then." The confidence of a four year old is inspiring. This particular four year old looked at me with steady and understanding eyes, nodding as he held onto his palm frond with a tenacious grip. "Yes, you were little," I thought. He hadn't yet turned two the last time we had marched into the Sanctuary on a Palm Sunday morning. In fact, he had been too little to join the parade back in 2019. Looking at him, struggling to see over the pew, I remarked, "You're still little." Some of our fifth graders were chuckling at the comment, rolling their eyes, as they too had things to say about this child's relative relationship to "little."
Working with children is an incredible gift. We live in the already and the not yet. No one in my ministry area knows how tall they will be, but they know to the millimeter how tall they are now. Life is marked with lost teeth, new experiences, and the occasional injustice that their arms are simply too short for a task.
Heading into the month of May and through the end of the school year, we begin to practice new identities. Preschoolers start whispering about "next year" in kindergarten. Fourth graders plot their ascension to being the oldest students in their elementary school. Ages begin to change: "I'm seven years and eight months." What a difference those eight months make! New skills have been mastered, some challenges left behind, and novel and amazing stories fill our daily conversations.
The writer of Ecclesiastes speaks eloquently about time, arguing that there is "nothing new under the sun," and yet calling the people to embrace the season before them. Entering into May as a church community, I hope we can learn from our youngest members what it means to live in this season: celebrating your half birthday or a new haircut; missing a favorite teacher; or the joy of a class trip. Of knowing that you will not be "seven years and eight months" for very long, but for today you are. Research tells us that by sharing memories and stories we help children learn empathy and build their understanding of belonging; by sharing these memories, we become more grounded in our own stories as well.
So the next time you hear a child talk about being "little," can you share a time you were "little" too? Ask them, “What it was like ‘way back when?’” Ask them, “What has changed and how would they help a younger child?” When frustrated that they are not yet old enough, can you remember what it was like when you were frustrated, waiting for the next opportunity? Can you share that heartache that a hope had to be placed aside for a season?
May the month ahead be filled with stories, celebrations, and deep memories that will help us grow into the church God calls us to be.