One mischievous American talk show host has developed a penchant for putting a microphone in front of children on a busy Californian street and asking the children, “What are the worst words your parents say?” Some children hesitate. Many do not. Curse words bumble out like so many little stings. The camera never pans to the exposed parent – one can only imagine their reaction.
When you are a parent, “practicing piety in order to be seen” is not really an option. Most of us are at least tempted to look good once and a while – to seem like we have everything under control even if there is sour milk in our hair. Children change our ability to appear as anything other than we are.
I found that the cries of my 2-year-old only exposed my bewilderment even when I had tried again and again to calm him. Later on, in the church hall, my son’s determination to play hide-and-go-seek beneath my chair only undid my chance at a reasonable coffee hour chat. I could not pretend to be unruffled; I could not hide behind polite conversation—my child called something deeper from me. My children’s behaviour – his joy, his anger, his search for understanding shocks me out of my habits and calls out authenticity.
Children unfasten our social personas in the same way that their surprising behaviour can deconstruct a church community. The persistent pattering of a 5-year-old’s shoes during the sermon makes the sermon about more than just the words. The community has come to listen, what will we do about it?
“Your Father sees in secret and will reward you.” Such are the mysterious intentions of a child. Let our children be our inspiration, inviting us to continue becoming. If their small selves are there in the midst of a community, what are they calling that community to be?