As a teacher I had spent many rewarding hours with children in the middle-elementary and junior-high grades. But I felt awkward and uncomfortable with very young children, and my tendency was always to avoid them.
Eventually I became involved in Sunday School work, and I knew this attitude had to go. I decided it was time for me to start "raising" children. No, my apartment wasn't suddenly overrun with young friends. What I had in mind was the quieter work of praying.
Sadly, I had been thinking of young children as immature, subject to tantrums, and not very interesting. I'd often heard teenagers labeled as rude, selfish, incorrigible. But these characterizations did not jibe with what I was learning about each one of us being the spiritual, cherished ideas of God, the children of our Creator and loving Parent.
So I realized that I needed to make prayer for all young people an important part of my life. I needed to acknowledge their identity as offspring of God. Lifting our children from the mortal misconception that they could be undesirable or burdensome is the joyful raising of children anyone can practice, whether a parent or not.
The Bible provided inspiring ideas, specifically the accounts of Jesus' love for little children. When the disciples rebuked the people who brought children to him, Jesus was "much displeased," the Gospel of Mark recorded. He responded: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:13, 14).
I also found this insight in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy: "Jesus loved little children because of their freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right" (page 236).
Aren't these qualities we would want to see expressed in children and adults alike? By identifying each one of us as already imbued with the qualities of purity and goodness, we bring an important spiritual dimension to the family unit.
I'm grateful for every opportunity I have to "suffer the children" to come to the Christ, that is, to recognize their divine indestructible nature. While I had once avoided little children, I now have a genuine affection for them.
News reports of child abuse and exploitation convince me that serious prayer on behalf of all children is necessary. We can turn to and trust God's law of good. This law precludes being either victim or victimizer. To pray in this manner has a healing effect on everyone in our thought. Then, having prayed, we have a responsibility to watch for opportunities to take practical steps to help.
Some time ago I'd witnessed an angry and ugly outburst between a neighbor and her son. Confrontations like this occurred frequently. It appeared that some of the children in the family were favored over others. Again it was occasion to "suffer the children" to come to the Christ.
Though I didn't see the children often, there were times I could share a book, help with a chore, or just chat over a picnic lunch in the backyard. There was much to love and respect in each one, from preschooler to teen. Evidence of trustfulness; intelligence; creativity; and the mature, affectionate display of mothering characteristics, all hinted at their wonderful capacity to do and be good. I was seeing their "freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right." Interestingly, I got along famously with the two preschoolers, and they were welcome visitors to my home.
On my refrigerator door is a small magnet, handpainted and embellished with a red ribbon. The 4-year-old member of that family gave it to me to say thanks after we'd shared a happy afternoon together.
Children and their families around the world need lifting up. We can do something to help. However small, we can expect our protests for the power of good to bring results. I am convinced that our individual and collective effort in raising children is a powerful force for good and will bless children and adults alike.