At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them” and continued: “Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1, 2, 4, GW).*
Astounding words! Children really do seem to understand the kingdom. Indeed, the most precious, touching, and profound sermons I have ever “seen” have come from preschoolers.
Four-year-old Rachael had attended our church-operated child-care center since she was 2. She was our little miracle girl. Born prematurely, with a complicated heart condition, she immediately underwent heart surgery. The surgery, which saved her life, also damaged the pace nerve in her heart, requiring the use of a pacemaker. Her gutsy perseverance and lovable personality completely won our hearts. Her two years with us were filled with illnesses, surgeries, medications, pacemaker replacement, and more.
Her medical problems were endless, as was her fight to live. Her medications caused her to be constantly thirsty, requiring her to drink lots of fluids. Sippy cups seemed to be the best way to meet this need, since she could grab one out of the classroom refrigerator without help. Every day she brought several sippy cups to school and kept one in her hand much of the time.
Then one day the phone rang. I recognized Rachael’s mother’s voice. She was crying. Trying to sound calm, I asked, “What’s wrong, Janet?”
“I didn’t send any sippy cups today because Rachael was so upset,” Janet answered. “Rachael said the big boys had laughed at her, saying she was a baby drinking from a sippy cup.”
“Who laughed at her?” I asked.
“Rachael wouldn’t tell me, because she said she didn’t want to get them in trouble,” said her mom.
I promised to find out what happened and convinced Janet to pack the cups for the next day. With a heavy heart I asked the teachers to arrange a group meeting with the children (after sending Rachael to another room to do an activity with a staff member). Rachael’s parents, members of a different denomination than that of our child-care center, had entrusted their most precious possession to us. As I walked in I wondered, How will we fix this?
Preschoolers almost always tell you more than you need, or even want, to know. Children of this age group are not above “ratting.” I reminded the group of how ill Rachael was, and how important fluids were to her. I also told them that Rachael didn’t have her sippy cups today because of her fear of being laughed at.
I soon knew who the “players” were in the “sippy cup” crime. I also knew I could rely on their tender hearts. Their repentance was as great as their misdeed; with tears streaming down their little faces, they expressed how sad they felt because they had hurt Rachael.
The next morning Rachael appeared with her usual supply of sippy cups. She received lots of hugs from friends, but still appeared anxious, until Matthew arrived.
Four-year-old Matthew had just started “hanging” with the 5-year-old boys. There were more 5-year-old boys in the classroom this year. Younger children referred to them as “the big boys.” In response to the title, the big boys decided that no girls of any age and no boys under age 5 would be accepted in their unofficial club.
Amazingly enough, Matthew broke through the barriers and became the only 4-year-old to “run with the big boys.” The 5-year-olds were likely impressed by the risks and bruises he had sustained as a result of his daredevil antics. Regardless, Matthew was now a member of the coveted club. He took his status seriously and continued to work hard to prove how tough he was.
On this morning Matthew’s mom rushed inside muttering, “I’m late. Matthew refused to leave the house without his sippy cup filled with apple juice. He hasn’t used it for ages. Kids! Go figure.”
Matthew followed closely behind, holding his sippy cup high as he yelled, “Hey Rashul [his pronunciation of Rachael], I brought my sippy cup too.” The room became quiet as little bodies with big eyes turned to stare at Matthew and his sippy cup.
Throughout the day Matthew carefully watched Rachael. Each time she reached for one of her drinks, Matthew reached for his sippy cup. Then he sat beside her with one arm draped protectively around her shoulder.
I learned a powerful lesson that day. I had attended classes and workshops in which the instructor asked each person to say something good about himself or herself. When it was my time to respond, I would always answer with absolutely no hesitation, “I’m a really good friend.”
Matthew, however, brought friendship to an all-new level. Never in my life had I risked my position, my reputation, and so much more in order to share someone else’s pain. God bless the Matthews in this world: there is a huge difference between “a friend” and “a sippy cup” friend. As Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, GW).
*Scripture quotations credited to GW are taken from God’s Word. Copyright 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
Mae Watson directs Kiddie Kampus, Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church’s preschool center, in Collegedale, Tennessee.