The other day I was driving with my mother on the way home from lunch. The sun was shining through the window on the warm August afternoon, it was nice to take a few moments and simply breath the warm air, and enjoy the drive between my house and Chipotle. It is by no means a scenic drive, but it is familiar. Much of the past few weeks had been spent in the office, sitting behind my desk preparing my youth programs for the coming semester at church. My mind was buzzing with lesson plans, event schedules, church calendars, bible parables, and ice breaker games. While I was driving I fell into a sort of afternoon daze, I start counting, out loud, with no actual goal number in mind, to the melody of Row row row your Boat. "One, Two, Three four five, Six, Seven eight nine ten" Maybe it was the pound of chicken and beans in my stomach, or the hypnotizing August sunshine, but for some reason I found this uncontrollably hilarious. My mother gave me a perplexed look, much like the look one would have when a total stranger starts talking to them as if they are life long friends. My mother looks back out ahead of the road and simply says "You need more adult friends."
I did not really know how to react to this, three weeks back from summer break, over one hundred hours logged behind my desk, and I had not even spent a minute with the youth at church yet.
Well, that is not completely true, fortunately our community has a thriving parochial school that goes from preschool all the way up to fifth grade. Taking time out of my day to sit down with our students is one of the highlights of my week. Every morning at 8:30 we arrive at the church, the students line up and say our morning prayers. In unison the students make their cross while they recite "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us" Most of our first through fifth graders have the morning prayers memorized at this point. Some still struggle to remember their left from right hand while they make their cross. I try to move around and correct them as much as I can, as the students eagerly watch Father at the front of the gym while morning prayer continues. After prayer concludes the students follow their teachers up the stairs, all the while making funny faces at me or trying to fit in one last joke before they are in their class rooms.
I spend the next twenty or so minutes with the Preschool, Pre-K and Kindergarten students as they arrive for the day. On any given day there is usually one group sitting on the bench discussing the food they want to eat this weekend, or scheduling play dates. There is always group of girls playing with a little toy puppy, and every time the wind-up toy jumps up, the circle of girls yelps in unison. As the students file in, some run up to give me a hug, others just want to show me their new Spider Man shoes. The one thing that they all have in common though is their genuine love and excitement for what the day has to bring.
At 9:00 a.m. we repeat the morning ritual with our Preschool, Pre-K and Kindergarten classes. The preschoolers are still learning the prayers at this point in the year. The three-year-olds cautiously look over to the kindergartners to make sure they are doing everything correctly. This time around there are always many more crosses to correct. Aiden, a perpetually excited young boy, who is tall for his age, stands at the front of the line towering over his classmates. He belts out the Lords Prayer at the top of his lungs, while little Christina stands in the middle of the other preschoolers struggling to learn her left from right while we make our cross. It is amazing to watch how quickly the children learn and absorb the prayers of the church at such a young age.
My favorite time of the day is easily pick up time, right around 3:00 p.m. The students line up on the bench by they door, and I just sit with them while they wait for their parents or grand parents to take them home. The preschoolers are just as excited to be picked up from school as they are being dropped off. the four-year-olds patiently wait on the bench. I like to take this time to step away from the office and talk to them about their day. "What did you learn today, what was your favorite part about today, what are you going to do when you get home." There is nothing inherently special about these questions, all I do is offer some genuine interest in their day.
As adults we look at children this young and think, man they have the life, no worries other than what will their snack be when they get home from school. For the children, however, the craft they completed in class that day holds just as much importance in their life as any of our adult responsibilities. All our children want is some one to tell them about that craft.
About a week ago I was talking with one of the parents from the school and told her that the previous day, her son came up to me at lunch simply to ask "Mr. Anthony will you be on the bench today?" she responded by saying, "Andrew is in love with you, and not just him, all of the preschoolers are in love with you. I don't know what you do, but its working..."
It was certainly heart warming to hear these comments from one of my parents. I simply replied "Thank you, I love these kids too." And I mean that with the deepest sincerity. When I tell people about what I do or what my job is the first thing that comes to mind is "Full time, multi-tasking Ninja," however, I try to avoid getting any more looks like the one my mother gave me as much as possible. The reality is, with all of the tasks and duties that my job involves it boils down to being a full time listener.
And that's what it's all about.
Everything I have put effort into becomes validated when you realize the impact you make on even the youngest child.
I have built this bond with the four-year-olds by simply sitting down and assuring them that what they have to say is important. It seems so easy with the preschoolers, this is because they will tell you anything without hesitation. There is so much to learn from our young children.
As we become older, and we build up our walls, and it becomes harder and harder to share with people around us; those walls begin to cut us off not just from each other but from Christ.
"Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3