When I volunteered to help in the children’s program at our church, I expected I would be the teacher, not the student. In a room full of 3’s and 4’s, where the lessons are sandwiched between wiping noses and handing out snacks, I certainly didn’t expect a vocabulary tutorial. But I got schooled on some pretty important words from the group that still says “potty.”
Lesson One: What is patience? When we took our little class down the hall to the big room for music and story time presented by the department director, one little boy was preoccupied. He couldn’t sing because he knew when we were done he would get to be the line leader to lead us back to our own class.
Rather than scold him for his unfocused enthusiasm, the director simple said, “Be patient while we have our music time.” Then she asked the whole group, “What is patience?”
In one voice, they all cried out “waiting!” They had clearly had this talk before. I can understand why. Waiting is hard, and not just for 3-year-olds. No one likes waiting. It feels like time wasted trying to get to something more important. Then they were asked a follow up question. “And how does patience wait?”
Almost all of the kids had the answer to that question. Did I? In my experience patience can wait begrudgingly. Patience can wait sarcastically, resignedly, or even hopelessly. All wrong answers. That is not the pre-k way. How does patience wait? “Happy!” they cried out.
What a liberating thought. Waiting does not have to be a waste of time or an interval of resentment. It can be a happy place. A place Proverbs describes as gain: “Whoever is patient has great understanding…”(14:29) What if I actually applied that in all the places, big and small, that find me waiting? Looking around at the happy waiting faces, even the one who was so eager to get his turn at the front of the line yet giving his attention to the singing and listening in the meantime, inspired me to try it.
I spent the next few days practicing the art of “waiting happy.” When they lost my order at the fast food place, when my dog pulled out his stiches and it was back to the vet, when my son was five hours late coming to town for a family lunch; in all those places I made the conscious choice not to waste the interval grumbling, pouting, manipulating, bemoaning, or complaining. Freed from a preoccupation with what hasn’t yet happened, the possibilities were endless. So, here is my conclusion. Waiting happy is the best way to wait! Thanks pre-K kids.
Lesson Two: What is repentance? I was surprised such a big word was part of a lesson for such little people, but I needn’t have worried. Many hands went up when that question was asked and their answer was memorable. What is repentance? “When I’m sorry for my sin and I don’t want to do it anymore.”
From the mouth of babes comes a pretty convicting lesson. Repentance isn’t just saying “sorry.” Repentance “doesn’t want to do it anymore.” Proverbs says it this way: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (28:13)
What I do must be part of what I say – so say my pre-K friends.
My time with these toddlers was a wonderful reminder of the simplicity of knowing God. When I am frustrated because it seems He is difficult to understand or His will impossible to discern, I will recall our day together that proved Jesus own words: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25) Children just like us.