In the heart of a child, one moment can last forever. Julie Weslake challenges us to embrace that moment.
What would the world be like without children? They surround our lives and have a major influence on the way we live. Some of these children are in our own homes, but many of them are not even relatives. They are a part of our neighbourhoods, schools, churches and towns. Some of them we see regularly; others we may have met only today and will never see again.
Childhood is a relatively short period of one’s life, but it is extremely significant because it’s the time when our self-worth, values, attitudes and beliefs are formed. As adults, we have the potential to exert a huge influence on children during these very impressionable and formative years. Our interaction with them will leave a lasting, lifelong mark—either positive or negative.
As adults, one of our most important duties is to treat all children with respect and dignity, for they, like all humans, are made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:27).
Children are also dependent and vulnerable. Along with the widows and foreigners in our midst who the Bible talks about as needing our protection and justice, it includes children. When Jesus healed, blessed and raised children to life, He was giving us clear examples of how children should be treated.
Many adults, especially if they don’t have children of their own, would say that they don’t have opportunities to influence children, but Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International, disagrees. In his book Just a Minute, Stafford says that adults can encourage each child they encounter in a day, even if it’s for as little as a minute. This can be done with an uplifting word, a smile, a compliment, holding a frightened hand or wiping a tear.
Stafford challenges adults to give these minutes to the children around us, because minutes really do matter. He writes that many doctors, missionaries, soldiers, leaders and sports heroes can remember the minute of attention they received from a caring adult that encouraged them to launch their extraordinary careers.
Tragically, though, a minute is also enough time to inflict a psychological wound that can fester and eventually destroy a child’s life. Many adults can remember when, as children, they were hurt, abused and damaged by an adult’s words and actions. They carry the vivid memories of the hurt and pain throughout their lives.
What can these seemingly fleeting and insignificant minutes achieve?
A Moment For Rescue
In this busy world, it is often the weakest, the most vulnerable—the littlest among us—who get hurt. It’s easy to miss noticing their needs. Many have no-one to watch out for them. Many live in poverty, with no-one to care for them. Often, we see them but don’t realise what’s going on in their lives. Children desperately need adults who will take just a minute to save and rescue them. They need a minute from an adult to give them hope.
A Moment To Build Self-Worth
Children’s sense of self-worth is foundational to how they live the rest of their lives. Self-worth is a delicately balanced thing: too little can stunt a child’s future, and too much can ruin it and cause havoc. At the age of 11, Adolf Hitler suffered extreme cruelty and humiliation by his father. His later drive for toughness, strength and domination at any cost, is the price the world paid for his father’s abuse. Fortunately, there are many adults who owe their positive self-worth to the praise and affirmation of an adult—a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, teacher or friend—who took the time to encourage and believe in them at a time when life was putting them down and hurting them.
A Moment To Form Character
Character is formed in childhood. What is imprinted so easily on the wet cement of our minds becomes harder to change as we age. We must never underestimate the importance of investing the time to help children shape their values. Integrity, truthfulness, compassion, patience, purity, gratitude, generosity and kindness are developed in childhood. This does not happen effortlessly. Children barely have a voice as they watch adults destroy the values needed for strong character development. But character development can happen if adults take even a few moments to teach and guide.
A Moment To Discover Talent
It only takes a minute to help children discover their gifts and inspire talents. From the little child who is encouraged and praised for her singing to the boy who never gave up a sport because an adult told him he was great at kicking, talents are developed every day. A future successful chef is being made by the patient actions and words of encouragement given in childhood.
A Moment To Awaken The Spirit
Children are waiting for spiritual guidance. Spiritual experiences in the early years are crucial to adult faith. Researchers tell us that of those people who give their hearts to Christ, most do so by age 12. So adults need to take seriously their roles in children’s spiritual development. As they interact with children, adults need to be prepared for the deep spiritual questions from them. They need to put themselves into the pathways of children to enable spiritual conversations and actions that both teach and encourage.
When we work with children, we often do not get to see the full outcome of our spiritual moments with them. However, we may discover that some of our greatest eternal accomplishments are the results of the moments we invested in the lives of children.
A Moment To Stretch The Mind
Children are constantly asking and wondering, “Who am I? What matters? What’s right and what’s wrong?” Unfortunately, at this critical time, when their minds are pliable and developing, many influences can have powerfully negative effects. Long before Hitler persecuted any Jews, he influenced the lives of many young people through his Hitler Youth movement. This started small; but by the end of 1933, it had a membership of 2.3 million, including numerous other youth organisations that were forced to merge with it. Hitler fully understood the power of shaping minds while they were still pliable.
Mao Tse-tung also understood this power and set up the Communist Youth League (for 14- to 28-year-olds) and the Young Pioneers (for 6- to 13-year-olds), with their trademark red scarves and allegiance to the Communist Party of China.
How well do we do in shaping the minds and loyalties of our present generation? How much money do churches and organisations put into this impressionable age group? No matter how poorly or how well we are doing this, there is one thing that is very clear: adults today are shaping the minds of children. How they are being shaped depends on us.
A Moment To Realise One’s Calling
No matter who you are, Stafford urges you to find your calling to positively influence the lives of children. He especially encourages men to step up and spend time with children and give them hope for a good future. He writes, “Men, you never stand so tall as when you stoop to help a child—especially your own.” Many times, this can be the right word spoken at the right time; and at other times, it is the example of a life lived with integrity that a child experiences. Children need adults who will walk the talk.
Stafford says God puts children into our pathways for a reason. He believes these times of encounter are divine appointments. He challenges us to see the children around us as opportunities for mission. We need to look at them with eyes that see their potential and need of support, encouragement and nurture.
You may think you are only one person, but you are still a very important person to a child. As Stafford writes, “Your mission begins with the very next child you encounter. What you do doesn’t have to be profound, just loving. It doesn’t have to last a lifetime, but it might.”
Are you willing to make a difference in a child’s life?
The Do’s And Don’ts For Dealing With Children
If children could tell adults what to do or not do, what would they say?
- Talk to me and smile at me.
- Be patient with me.
- Tell me that I am special and loved.
- Tell me that I am smart and talented.
- Stand up for me and protect me.
- Ridicule and laugh at me.
- Tell me to go away.
- Tell me I’m stupid.
- Ignore me.
- Compare me with others.
- Tell me that I’m a bad person.