Inviting your babes into sacred spaces is risky. Sacred ground often burns with holy fire. And as a general rule, babes and fire don’t mix.
On February 19, a small waiting room outside an ICU was transformed into such a burning ground. We first gathered in shock, then sorrow, as my 39-year old husband battled for life after a heart attack had erupted his left artery: the “widow-maker.”
I asked for a ride to the hospital, and our tribe took it from there. They stormed the gates of heaven in prayer and stormed the hospital in vigil. Hundreds of friends stepped into that sacred space, among them, some little visitors.
I would have told you that an ICU waiting room is no place for a child. I would have been wrong. Because the moment someone placed their babe in my arms, arms that were both hollow and heavy at the same time—the moment that I breathed in her sweet baby scent—I was reminded there was life. New, beautiful life. Even in the shadow of death.
And when pink boots and a purple tutu floated in front of my tear-stained eyes, when she pointed to her Band-Aid and said “fix Uncle’s heart,” when her three-year-old giggles filled a room full of ache, I was reminded that there is laughter, there is joy, even in the midst of pain.
When I looked into the eyes of a favorite four year-old soul, a bouncy, vibrant, eager young minion, I saw him tasting fear for the first time. He was just old enough to understand that our tears were different than any he’d seen before. He hesitated, which reminded me not to. I knelt down, looked into his big scared eyes and let him see back into mine, then felt his arms go wide and wrap tightly around my neck in a hug that reminded me that love is fierce and vulnerable all at the same time.
Later, when we were home, when science had been defied and we knew we were living a miracle, I hugged an eight-year-old who hadn’t prayed in years. He’s a pastor’s kid, so I can’t blame him that much. His parents prayed life from their living room. And quietly, in a whisper as he went to bed one night, he said, “Dad, I prayed for Jason, too.” Days later, when Jason woke up after medicine had already said hope was gone, he shouted, exuberantly now, “DAD, I prayed for him!” He and I had both learned to always, always ask.
Hearts young and old dared to show up—both in the waiting room and their living rooms. Prayers and tears were not hidden from little hearts. Parents dared to let their children into the messy. And that’s why they got to be there for the miracle.
But they didn’t know that was how it would end. We never know how it’s going to end.
And parents, hear me here: don’t go smashing a goldfish so your children can understand death. Don’t ignore your discretion and God-given insight to the particular soul you’ve been trusted to shepherd. May a heart never be hurt for the sake of hurt alone. But this world will teach them how to lose things, even people. How much better for them to navigate pain at your side? Not with answers, but in spite of not having any. Inviting your children into sacred spaces is risky, yet it’s often through risk that our truest identities are formed.
During those twelve days in the hospital, I saw the power of God’s entire family, both young and old, caring for one another. I saw that littles have just as much to teach us as we do them—or maybe even more. Babes haven’t learned trite answers yet. Their hearts haven’t yet traded hope for understanding. Little hearts have surprising capacity for big truths. If we let them bring the perfect, priceless, pure love that only a child can really offer, and that any grieving heart could never refuse, together we will dare to let their identities—and ours—form in both truth and grace. And together, in our communities of faith, we will hurt, but we will also heal.