Written by Cindy Palin
I am humbled by our Heavenly Father’s trust in us to care for and teach children. There is no better way for us to understand His heart towards us, and our dependence on Him in everything. And there’s much more we can learn from caring for children.
Scripture teaches parents and advocates a sobering message with regards to His little ones. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). The severity of this verse is a necessary warning in our broken world.
I do not have to think long to remember some of my adolescent struggles, those adults who were helpful, and those who were a hindrance. Through the same grace afforded me and the power of the Spirit’s healing, I have been able to learn from people’s successes and mistakes, and use those valuable lessons in the practice of advocating for others.
As I reverently listen to the personal stories of others, I often recognize experiences or difficulties that are similar to something I’ve faced. This is both a helpful and challenging revelation.
It’s helpful to identify with a specific situation, but detrimental to assume absolutes. We can often impede a child’s mental and emotional health by assuming their behaviour makes them just like us, or fill in the blanks with our presuppositions. It’s also a problem if we treat their immediate decision-making skills as determining their entire future.
Whether a parent or advocate, we need to see the whole person, and not get stuck on the behaviour. Jesus called Matthew to follow Him while Matthew’s tax collecting antics were still in play. Jesus knew Matthew’s behaviours would eventually change through faith and discipleship. However, if Matthew had never experienced the transformation we witness in Scripture, Jesus would still have loved him.
In Matthew 19:14 we see the disciples rebuking some children, but Jesus welcomes them. When we look at each other it is good to remember we were all once little children. This mindset helps us set aside any biases we may have. Ask yourself, is it possible to learn something from someone younger than you? Is it possible to see someone the way God sees them?
It’s also helpful to remember that with Christ’s sacrifice we are made again like those small children, but even better. We are new creations covered in His righteousness, with fresh, new possibilities available every day (2 Corinthians 5:17). This truth helps us to be patient with each other, and to not focus on immediate results.
Taking time to listen affirms a person’s worth.
Purposefully affirming their strengths helps them see the bigger picture. They can be reassured that their challenges do not define them. The struggles that seemed all-encompassing become more manageable.
If you feel led to pray over a child in your responsibility, make sure you ask for permission. You may need to build a stronger trust relationship before prayer is welcomed. Prayer may never be something you can practise publicly with the individual, but there are no limitations on how often we make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6). It is necessary to pray for guidance before advocating for someone, during, and afterward. As 1 Peter 5:7 says, we should cast all our cares upon Him.
There are important boundaries involved in advocating for youth. Boundaries include choosing wise, above-board meeting locations, respecting confidentiality, and ensuring youth are referred to another advocate if that is more suitable (due to age, situation, or gender, for example). Being open and having personal accountability is key. Fiercely protect yourself and others with the love of Christ.
The Bible is rich with examples of how we can advocate for people of all ages. It’s the most important resource we have (2 Timothy 3:16). If you are called to be an advocate, whether in a professional capacity or not, ask our Heavenly Father for wisdom. There are practical theories and learned people, but every good thing comes from the Father (James 1:17).