I was waiting in my threes room hoping I would see Nathaniel. He had been absent 3 straight weeks. I sent him a postcard telling him I missed him but wasn’t sure if he got it. He was new to our class and I hadn’t connected with his parents yet. (I dropped the ball on that one.) I wanted another shot at meeting mom or dad. Nathaniel just HAD to come back to church.
I wish you could meet him. He had me wrapped around his finger within seconds. He walked into our classroom smiling and without hesitation gave me the biggest hug. He melted into my arms and into my heart. His healthy tummy was peaking out from under his too little shirt. He smelled like a mixture of cigarette smoke and something like your grandparent’s old storage shed.
Nathaniel was pretty consistent for several weeks before he stopped coming. He would play with my hair during the Bible story or rest his dimpled knuckle hand on my leg. He was always pleasant and enjoyed whatever we were doing. He especially liked playing with the toy pink vacuum cleaner.
All of this is why I was waiting and watching for him to walk through the door. I wanted desperately for him to know that God made Him. God loves Him. And Jesus wants to be His friend forever because if I was totally honest, something inside of me knew his parents needed to know, too.
I decided that if I ever got to meet Nathaniel’s parents I was going to do all I could to encourage them.
My day came three weeks ago.
In walked Nathaniel with a tight t-shirt on that said “I Love Mom”. It was the perfect opportunity to connect with a parent. I stepped out into the hallway and caught his mom as she was walking away. Life had been hard. It was written all over her face. She smiled in such a way to hide her need for dental work. There were tattoos and a low cut top. But more than any of that, there was a mom trying to do something good for her child.
I introduced myself. I told her how perfect the t-shirt was because Nathaniel was the most loving child I had ever met and that she should be very proud for raising such a sweet child. I went on to tell her that Nathaniel is very blessed to have a mom that will get up so early on a Sunday and bring him to church.
Our meeting lasted seconds. Nathaniel hasn’t missed a Sunday since. And I haven’t stopped finding at least one encouraging thing to say to this mom every Sunday.
Small group leaders have to fight the temptation to judge parents every Sunday.
Don’t assume their story.
Every parent is doing something right.
If we love the children in our classrooms, we will look beyond what we see on the outside of their parents and into their hearts. We will encourage them in what they are doing right and let them they don’t just have to survive parenting—they can WIN! And we, as small group leaders, are here to encourage (not judge) them along the way.
Love the kids.
Love the parents.
They are a package deal.