Jesus and Diaper Blowouts

A couple of years ago, I fumbled my way into hot water with a church […]

Will Ryan / 10.12.21

A couple of years ago, I fumbled my way into hot water with a church member where I’m a pastor. You see, we made the decision not to include kids who hadn’t been potty-trained in children’s programming for the year. Having them participate would have been a hassle, needing more volunteers and making accommodations for them. The expedient thing to do was to do what we’d always done and say a child had to be potty-trained to participate.

But that meant excluding a leading volunteer’s grandson and she was mad about it. She let me know in no uncertain terms I was wrong. Of course, I tried to reason with her, tried to show her the other side, explain the cost-benefit ratio, but she was having none of it. 

I trotted out the tried and true line of “this is the way we’ve always done it;” which went about as well as you could expect. “You’ve said that’s not a good excuse to do something before,” throwing my past statements back at me. I spoke about how we the volunteers who already agreed weren’t told they’d have to change diapers. “Well, just tell them things have changed,” she replied. I talked about how the curriculum we bought wasn’t written with such kids in mind, “But that can be adapted to include them.”

For every excuse I threw at her, she had a response. The pressure built until steam poured out of the kettle and she pointed and yelled at me, “Jesus said, ‘let the children come to me!’ Are you going to disobey Jesus!?!”

After that boiling point, I was able to usher her into my boss’s office where we all calmed down and worked out a compromise. The relationship, which had the potential to deteriorate, healed and we moved forward.

But, in the back of my mind, I smugly had the thought, “well … that’s not what Jesus was talking about there.” And truth be told, for years I continued to think little of what the woman said, reassuring myself I was right and she was wrong, especially when it came to interpreting the Bible. I mean, I have the degree, don’t I? I know what I’m talking about!

However, coming full circle, she was right. My decision was formed by expediency and optimization. I wanted a well-run program that I didn’t have to work too hard to produce. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the littles to experience some sort of faith formation, it was more that I wanted to look good without trying too hard. 

I have a 2-year-old now and life is anything but simple. She constantly demands attention lest she hurls herself to her doom. She wakes me up in the wee hours of the night because she thought she heard an owl outside her bedroom window. She embarrasses me on many trips to the store with her independent streak and quick “no” to everything I tell her. She can be a something of a burden (you know, like all kids are).

That doesn’t change my love for her. It doesn’t change my want of her to grow with the knowledge that God loves her unconditionally without regard to merit or worthiness. It doesn’t change her need to play and have fun with her friends (even at a church program!). 

The woman was right, I was acting just like Jesus’ disciples who tried to shoo away the kids seeking out Jesus’ blessing.

Jesus defied societal expectations when he rebuked his disciples for shooing the kids away. Kids were afterthoughts. They mattered little because they didn’t have anything to offer. They took resources: time, attention, care. The rest of the world put kids out of sight and out of mind because they didn’t have value. Today, we might think of children as a burden because of their constant need for attention and care, but back then children were viewed as inconsequential, not-yet adults unworthy of a famous rabbi’s time, attention, and care. They were nothing and often treated as such.

Jesus didn’t care about society’s expectations. Kids were the exact type of people he came for: people who weren’t up to society’s standards. People who didn’t really earn their keep. People who were dependent upon others. He wasn’t including them because they were innocent or cute or any other modern conception of a child. He included them because they are a perfect example of who is invited to the kingdom of God: people without worth and totally dependent on the gift of God in Christ.

The woman was right. We should have included the kids who weren’t potty-trained yet. It shouldn’t have mattered if it was difficult or new. It shouldn’t have mattered, even if it was going to be a burden. It shouldn’t have mattered that we were going to have to put up one of those signs that said, “It’s been X amount of days since our last diaper explosion.” 

Jesus blessed kids because his radical kingdom was based on grace and not merit. Kids take a lot of work. They can’t produce much. They test your patience and push boundaries to the limit, constantly doing the exact thing you tell them not to. Sort of like adults, really. But none of that matters to Jesus. “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” (Mark 10:14b) If entrance into God’s kingdom were only for those who deserved it, kids would be left out. Everyone would be left out. But entrance into God’s kingdom isn’t based on what we’ve done, but on what God has done for us (see Rom 5:6).

I suppose the good news is I’m included too, even though I failed at that moment in my want of the perfectly easy children’s program. Just like Jesus welcomes and blesses kids, he welcomes and blesses us failures too. 

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