The more I work with kids, the more I realize how much my relationship with them often mirrors my relationship with God.
Now, hold up a second. I completely, 100%, indisputably realize I am not God, nor do I come anywhere close to being like God. But I think God uses the different relationships and interactions with have with other people to parallel aspects of our relationship with Him, and I’d say there’s a lot of biblical proof to back that up.
I saw this so clearly in my role as a soccer coach to a bunch of awesome 9 to 13 year olds, and now as a Sunday School teacher to a group of awesome 6th graders.
Another thing I don’t claim to be is a great soccer coach. The most recent season was less than stellar when it comes down to wins and losses. But I saw tremendous growth in my players’ skills and attitudes each season I worked with them, and as a coach, I think that’s my ultimate goal.
Perhaps the thing my soccer kids struggled with most was listening. Each and every one of them loves to talk, they all have ideas or stories they want to share, they all want my attention, and when we’re on the sideline, they all want in the game. It’s beautiful and frustrating. I want nothing more than to sit down and listen and give each of them the attention they crave. But I also have other goals for our time together. To grow in their soccer skills and as a team. To teach them about Jesus. Beyond that, I can’t always set my attention on an individual at the expense of the rest of the team. And they’re so passionate about everything that they often keep talking when I am– something anyone who works with kids has experienced. Even though I’m (supposedly) an adult, sometimes I get overwhelmed when five kids are talking to me at once and my introverted self can’t quite handle all the sensory activity.
While the kids enjoy their coaches and want our attention, they don’t always think we know what we’re talking about when they do hear what we’re saying. From practice drills to games, when they either think they know better or just don’t want to listen, it usually turns out to be detrimental to the whole team.
I’ve seen something similar in the kids that make up my 6th grade Sunday School class. Most of them also love talking and they’re still at an age where they like to participate in conversations and activities. And by participate, I mean they go all in. They get excited. They cheer and yell during games, share personal stories, and aren’t afraid to ask questions that many adults won’t ask. But they also don’t always like to follow the gameplan for the class. They struggle with listening, too, and they are ready to argue about just about anything. And even though they participate, they sometimes don’t seem to remember much we’ve studied from week to week.
In the midst of soccer practices and Sunday School lessons with these kids who make me laugh and think and sometimes break my heart, I’ve often been reminded how much their behavior is akin to how I act towards God. When I get frustrated with the kids, I try to remember the great mercy God shows me every day, and it helps me extend that patience to them.
I crave God’s attention. I want him to listen to me and I want him to give me everything I want, all the time. I want to do things my way and I want him to follow my plan no matter what the goals or plans he has for me are. While I expect God to listen to me, I’m not very good at listening to him. Sometimes I disobey just because I don’t want to do things his way. Often I think I know a better way.
Thankfully, God doesn’t get overwhelmed with me. I don’t stress him out. I don’t derail his plans. He does listen to me, every time, all the time. And he is a generous dispenser of second chances. He is patient while I learn, grow, and change. My disobedience is still a serious offense to him, as is my assumption of my own superior knowledge. But thankfully, all offenses are covered by the gracious sacrifice of Christ. And while it takes me trial and error to know how to discipline my soccer team and Sunday School class with both love and effectiveness, God already knows how to discipline me and help me grow in loving yet effective ways, even if I don’t see them as such at the time.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love working with kids. It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life. God has used ministering to kids to shape and grow me in many ways. I’ve also seen him work, somehow, through me, to teach and connect with kids who need guidance, encouragement, and friendship in their lives. It’s a wonderful privilege and a heavy responsibility, because even when it doesn’t seem like they’re listening, I’m helping to shape the way they view God. I don’t take that lightly, but I do take it with joy. And I know that God doesn’t take my relationship with him lightly either, but I also know that he rejoices over it.
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