By Caroline Cheek
I love children. Their development endlessly fascinates me. I love asking them questions. I love the way their answers push me. They make me journey to the inner edges of my superego, compelling me to look for simpler answers. Getting lost in our layered adult problems is easy, and we forget that there is boundless truth behind the way children see the world.
Here at the Family Tree I have been immersing myself in a child’s view, spending about an hour every week with a little boy named Jeremiah. In Frank Schaffer’s book Why I am an atheist who believes in God, he points out that children have an uncanny ability to understand a story to be simultaneously both true and not true. I love this idea, and I believe that it is a great gift children have. Because they haven’t yet grown into that scientific critical eye we develop somewhere along the way, children can accept a literary tale for the mystery and magic of it.
When I first met Jeremiah he told me, “I am in the Bible.”
My typical response was that of an enlightened adult, “You mean there is a character in the Bible named Jeremiah too?”
“No, I am in the Bible.”
“Ok!“ I said, remembering Frank Schaffer’s quotes on children.
Jeremiah is a six-year-old elementary student here in Enderly Park. His sister brings him to devotionals, on Wednesdays. I quickly noticed Jeremiah because his presence is obvious in almost all social situations. He walks into a room and demands the attention of the people there both young and old. Often he acts out this demand for attention in the form of all kinds of language choices and violent behavior. It is a creation of chaos. At first, it is astonishing to see all of this chaos stirred-up by such a small person, but he is a force. His need to create a response in his environment captured me.
One night after devotionals Jeremiah ran to get his sister so he could go home, despite our telling him Devos isn’t over. He headed to the house where the high-school students were still having their lesson. I knew that Jeremiah might still need some attention so I slyly pulled out some paper and crayons, and said the internal prayer that I often pray: Please, let these tools be used to heal me, that I might use them to share God’s healing power with others. Within minutes Jeremiah was focused, drawing a spider. He told me the story of the spider, about its arms and eyes, and about the bite it had under its eye. His ability to communicate through his imagination is fascinating. All he needed were the tools and a curious friend willing to draw with him.
Since that day, Jeremiah and I have been making art every week. He seems to be excited about his time here, but I am not sure he enjoys it as much as I do. In his drawings I have started to see something of the biblical Joshua. His imagination is prophetic. Through his drawings he tells me stories of death, conflict, comfort and hope. So he reminds me of the work that is to be done, the injustice that is ever present in his world and the hope that we can find, healing through relationship.
Last week we talked about Jesus in the wilderness. I asked Jeremiah, “Why do you think Jesus had to go into the wilderness?”
“Because he needed peace and quiet.”
“Do you ever need peace and quiet? Where do you go for peace and quiet?”
He drew a picture of a tree with birds all around, where his pet lizard is buried nearby. I was so happy to know of this place, even if (like me) he needs to remember to visit it a little more often. He explained that he needed to go there when he felt angry. Anger comes up a lot in Jeremiah’s drawings. He is so smart, and he witnesses so much.
I can relate to that anger. I named my blog “Justice Monster” because the anger I feel often relates to injustice. Like Jeremiah, I want to act on that anger. I want to be heard and understood. I want to create a little chaos. I know the world is unfair. It is full of walls, boundaries–included people and excluded people. In my own heart there are walls, rules for how and when I can connect with others. Jeremiah is teaching me that anger channeled creatively can be used to break down walls. I have great dreams of growth for Jeremiah in his ability to express his anger creatively. After all, Joshua didn’t only lead the Israelites in marching around the walls of Jericho with indignation. No, God instructed him to bring trumpets. In each encounter with Jeremiah at Family Tree, every test of limits, every expressive moment, I feel the walls of my heart open more and more, and motivate me to keep showing up with crayons and listening for the sound of trumpets.