...In the toddler Sunday school room, a child sobbed unconsolably in a volunteer’s arms. Another one-year-old calmly noticed, came, placed her hand on the boy’s arm and spoke words only another toddler might understand. The boy immediately quieted and the girl wandered back to her playing...
...Knowing they wanted Jesus to be the center of their children’s lives, Tom and Joanna dedicated their three boys back to God in the company of family, friends and the church. At the ripe old age of three, one of the brothers joined in praying for a missionary family headed to Africa with a unique prophetic word that offered encouragement to all who were there...
...Instead of being disqualified because of her age, a 12-year-old girl was entrusted with teaching the kindergarten Sunday school class. The director was willing to bless her with an opportunity to serve. Plus, children relate better to people closer to their own age. (Fast-forward several decades and she is writing this post on blessing children.)...
In each of these instances, a combination of parents and the church blessed children. Children in turn offered blessing to others.
Scripture makes it clear that all people are made in God’s image, including children. Children don’t need to grow up before belonging to the Body of Christ. Yet the way we engage children doesn’t always reflect this truth.
Matthew 19 recounts little children being brought to Jesus in order that he might lay hands on them and pray. Jesus defied culture by recognizing children’s full humanity as he engaged them, and admonished his disciples for hindering them from coming to him. Scripture records Jesus becoming angry very few times. Hindering children from receiving Jesus’s blessing evokes his righteous anger.
When we assume children need to be a certain age or more like adults to experience and know Jesus, we hinder them from coming to Jesus. Jesus clearly declares, “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).
As more vulnerable members of the Body of Christ, children model dependence upon God through needing adults. Older children and adults are not only charged with looking after these vulnerable members but also with empowering these youngest members to make their contribution to the Body of Christ. One significant way we can do this is by following Jesus’s example and learning to bless children like he did.
Christians in the Celtic tradition saw children as a blessing and worthy of receiving blessing. Before a child was born, the hope of new life and recognition of God’s blessing would spread throughout the community as a whole. There was an expectation of the blessing God was bringing to them through the anticipated child. These Celtic Christians were truly living out the scripture that “children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3).
The Celts identified hope and joy as two significant ways children contributed to their community. As the young participated in community life, they brought joy like no other (older) members could. One way this joy could be seen was in the awe and wonder children expressed as they discovered creation. Like the healthy example of our fifth century Celtic brothers and sisters, we too need to bless children, allowing them to contribute their gift of hope and joy—a gift that our modern-day world desperately needs, and that they effortlessly offer!
Blessing is an attitude of welcome and love. It is so much more than words we speak—although words do matter! We express blessing through both actions that honor children as God’s beloved, and through words that affirm.
Henri Nouwen put it this way, “Children need to be blessed by their parents and parents by their children. . . . To give blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s belovedness. And more than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks.” It is out of a sense of identity as Jesus’s beloved that we have something to offer another, regardless of our age.
So, how might we participate in creating this reality of a blessed life in the lives of children? In addition to following Jesus’s example of welcoming and loving children, it is significant to speak words of blessing. Our words are powerful. Here are a few practical ideas:
1. Be intentional. Seize moments on the fly and set aside dedicated time. From traffic lights to bedtime rituals to annual birthday blessings, purposefully incorporate blessing into your life with the children (and others!) in your sphere of influence.
2. Engage. Include some kind of meaningful touch or look into the child’s eyes.
3. Say something. Don’t assume children intuitively know how you feel and what you think. Even if they do, stating the obvious is deeply affirming.
4. Get specific. Thank God for gifts you see in them and the contributions you see them making.
5. Speak identity. Recount times of when they experienced God’s love. Remind them of your presence and Jesus’s presence. Pray with them and for them regularly. Say words like, “You are a daughter/son of the Most High God.” I recently heard of a 4-year-old recounting, “There is no spot where God is not,” demonstrating an identity inseparable from Jesus—the result of being blessed by a simple phrase.
6. Bless with scripture. It’s loaded with blessings. Here are just a couple of examples:
“May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”
“Even before he made the world, God loved [you] and chose [you] in Christ
to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
God decided in advance to adopt [you] into his own family
by bringing [you] to himself through Jesus Christ.
This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on [you]
who belong to his dear Son.”
May you experience childlike hope and joy as you participate with Jesus in blessing the least of these in the Kingdom!
If you'd like to learn more about how blessing is used in the Bible and practical ways to start blessing others, our online Blessing Guide is a great resource.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karin Middleton and her husband, Tom, have been with CRM since 2002 as part of Ethne. They work with CRM in Western Europe, and live with their two daughters in Conifer, Colorado. Karin is currently studying at Fuller Seminary to be more equipped to advocate for the spiritual development of young children in the Church.