One of my delights on the Lord’s Day is talking to the children of my church. They come up to me before the service, or at the fellowship lunch, or on my way out the door; they tug at my hemline or hug my legs; they wait for me to squat down to eye-level, and then they tell me something.
“Mommy and Daddy,” began one little girl last week, “Mommy and Daddy said. . .they said. . .we are going to start. . .teaching at this church!” She grinned. Her family had been visiting for a few weeks, and I’m sure the message translation was that they were going to begin attending regularly—teaching gifts yet to be determined—but, oh, her delight in telling me!
Sunday by Sunday I hear stories about visits to Grandma’s house, newly discovered television shows, birthday party plans, and Sunday school lessons. They tell me what they ate for breakfast and ask me if they can have gum from my purse. And every one of those little people has a soul that will never die.
Several years ago, I was convicted about the shallowness of my interactions with the church’s children. Especially with the little girls, my conversations on Sunday mornings frequently reduced to “What a pretty dress/nice shoes/beautiful hair bow!” In response, the little girl would twirl her hemline or flip her braid and smile shyly. If her mother was nearby, she might be prompted to say, “Thank you.” End of conversation.
And so, I decided to stop.
I resolved that I would not comment on the appearance of any child in my church.
Now, personally, I love a beautiful outfit. I affirm that clothing is medium for creativity. I have written about how God, the divine tailor, was the first fashion designer. But, the reality with little girls is that those darling dresses were almost certainly selected, purchased, washed, ironed, and laid out by a mother. Any compliment about her appearance is not an encouragement to her as a creative being but a comment on her mother’s skill in dressing her. And I’m pretty sure she knows it.
I think my comments on dresses and bows were also motivated by laziness. I wanted to reach out to the little ones on the Sunday school hall, but I didn’t make it a priority truly engage them. Walking past them with a momentary “So cute!” was a way to appease my conscience that I had loved the children. Check.
I only see those children once, some of them twice or three times, each week. I only have a few minutes to look into their eyes and hear what they have to say. And I don’t want them to grow up thinking the only thing that matters to me is how they look. I don’t want them to think that’s what matters to the Lord.
I cannot go to eternity with a line of little girls who thought they were merely mannequins.
So, I’m done with "What a pretty dress!"
It is much more difficult to engage children nowadays. Some of them are shy—unused to an adult who bends low and asks questions. Some of them are running so fast they don’t want to stop and talk. Some of them liked it better when I simply noticed their curls and moved on.
But many of them have stories to tell. And, week after week, they reveal themselves to me as thinking people, people with plans and ideas. People with jokes and questions and troubles of their own. People who are my neighbors. People who are my friends.
The kingdom of God is not about having a pretty dress.
Someday I hope to see these children again, all grown up and made perfect in holiness, gathered around the Throne. And their robes will honor the Lamb in whose blood they were washed. (Rev. 7:9-10, 13-14) In that eternal Sabbath, their clothes will be remarkable.
Maybe then I will say, with awe and thanksgiving, "What a pretty dress."