During my first several years of walking with the Lord, at a time when I was trying to quickly learn how to be an adult, wife, mother, and Christ follower all at once, God in his kindness and faithfulness was steadily revealing himself in both truth and grace, helping me better understand the nature of the One in whom I had placed my trust. But of all the things I would learn of him, whether through Scripture, prayer, or encounters with the Spirit, none would shape my faith as greatly as the privilege of observing the faith of a child.
When the nurse placed a beautiful preemie-sized, dark-haired, olive-skinned newborn little girl in my arms at seventeen, I had only one thought: I can’t do this. Beyond the obvious concerns of age and inexperience, I had long believed that I did not have the temperament required for being a good mother, and I had many times throughout my adolescent years imagined that I would choose to remain childless as an adult. But now she was here, and as the overwhelming reality of impending parenthood swept over me, all I could think to do was cradle Hannah in my arms and pray. Father, please guide me so that I might help guide her. Be her all in all, Lord, and fill in all the places where her dad and I are sure to fall short. My desire for her life is that she would know your love and mercy and choose to walk in your ways. Please reveal yourself to her, and be her good Father. In the quiet of the hospital room came back that still, small voice in answer: “She will know me. I will speak to her in the secret places.”
Hannah was from the start an easy-going, joyful, curious about life, always willing to help, intent on organization, obedient little girl. She made parenting seem easy, and we were so grateful and honestly a little surprised by all that she added to our lives. And the Lord kept his promise concerning her. From an early age she knew him. I was amazed and inspired by her unassuming, natural connection to the Father, who she referred to in her prayers and earliest journal writings always as “Papa.” She did not have to be taught that God could be addressed so intimately. She just instinctively knew that was who he was: her good, loving, kind Papa, with whom she could share her joys, triumphs, hurts, fears, loneliness, and doubts.
I will never forget when she came running into the living room at just four years old with curls bouncing and climbed into my lap to ask why she had seen pictures of herself in our wedding album when most children were born after their parents had already married. I hadn’t expected that question to come so early, and I knew that the answer must be communicated carefully, lest it in any way seem to her that she might somehow have been a mistake. So I gently explained that her dad and I had made some poor choices when we were younger and that in disobedience to God, we did things out of order. I shared with her that even though we had decided early on that we would not get married and would raise her apart, God had spoken to each of us separately, just before she was born, and told us to marry one another and trust him to knit us together as a family.
Immediately, Hannah’s eyes grew wide, and a smile spread across her face. “Oh, Mommy!” she cried excitedly, “Not all kids get to have their whole family together. God has been so good to me! Even though you guys messed up, he made sure I got to have a mom and a dad.” As she jumped down to go play, my heart swelled, and the tears could not be held back. While I had continued to struggle with shame over the sins of my past and how our family came to be, a child recognized at once the Lord’s evident mercy and goodness in the situation. It was the beginning of healing and acceptance for me, and it is a lesson I have not forgotten.
In the early years of marriage and ministry, I was very cognizant and often embarrassed by the fact that I was such an infant in the faith, and I was unsure of how the Lord could use me, since I had very little foundational knowledge of Scripture, theology, doctrine, or even how to walk in the spiritual disciplines that would help me grow in my understanding of God. I found my religion courses in college helpful for exposing me to all of the information regarding Christianity, but it was the short bedtime devotionals, always followed by a multitude of questions, and the sweet, simple prayers of a child that had the greatest impact on my relationship with the Lord. On more than one occasion, as I finished delivering my final goodnight kisses, the Spirit would gently remind me that it was as a child that he found me, and all that was required of me was to rest in the goodness of my Papa, just as my own children, who would continually inspire deeper faith in me throughout the years, managed so effortlessly.
“But Jesus called for the children, saying, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”Luke 18:16,17