Children's Sabbath 2019

Today is the 29th annual observance of Children’s Sabbath. Each year our congregation participates in a 40-day prayer vigil leading up to the observance. The prayer vigil and the observance have two main goals. The first is to listen to the voices of children. From ancient days, our people have recognized both the importance and wisdom of children. The 11th chapter of the book of Isaiah expounds a beautiful vision of peace and in that vision a little child is leading the way. Jesus invited the children to come to him even when his disciples tried to turn them away. Children are central to the observance of our faith.

Listening to the voices of children can be a difficult challenge. According to a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund, over 12.8 million children in the United States live in families where the income is below the poverty line. This means that nearly 13 million children face times of inadequate nutrition and the interruption of their education and live under the threat of homelessness and violence. No child should have to suffer such poverty and yet we have made children among the most vulnerable victims of poverty while we continue to offer tax cuts to the most wealthy of our citizens. It can be painful to realize how much children are asked to bear the burdens of inequalities in our society.

While the overall child poverty rate in our State is slightly below the nation’s average, we are home to the county with the highest child poverty rate in the nation: Ziebach County, on the Cheyenne River Reservation is home to the highest percentage of impoverished children. Across our state the poverty rate among single mothers is 38.2%.

Listening to the voices of children is listening to a cry for help, which brings us to the second part of the observance of Children’s Sabbath. Our second goal is to respond to the needs of children. And the needs are indeed great. Those needs, however, are also basic. It doesn’t take extraordinary means to address a lack of nutrition among children.

Sometimes, however, our well-meaning attempts at solving problems can create dependencies and a form of paternalism that extends the problem into future generations instead of solving it. An excellent example is some of the response we make to hungry children in our community. People, primarily teachers, were observing that children were coming to school hungry. The basic instinct of every caring person when encountering a hungry child is to feed the child. Our community has responded with a variety of feeding programs including school breakfasts and lunches and a unique backpack program where children are provided easy to prepare and eat meals to take home on weekends when school feeding programs are not in operation.

The problem is that in our rush to help we have stepped into the midst of a very basic relationship between parents and children. We have taken away from parents and grandparents the responsibility of feeding the children. By feeding their children, we have taken away their ability to choose what food their children eat. And by feeding hungry children we have shifted family finances. When less money is needed for food in an impoverished family, more money is directed to the costs of housing, making the families vulnerable to predatory lending schemes and housing contracts.

Sometimes the best intentioned attempts at helping can make a problem larger instead of smaller.

While we have two main goals for the observance of Children’s Sabbath, like every other sabbath observance, we are brought back to the reality that we are incapable of solving the world’s largest problems on our own. While there are clearly responses to child poverty that we can make and there is more that we can do, it is true that we need the help of God to address the deepest needs of the children in our community. We are dependent upon God’s participation in human history to bring about real change.

The Apostle Paul wrote about how faith, hope and love are at the center of life. He also wrote of their endurance in the face of the temporal nature of much of this life.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for faith. May we once again learn to believe in the worth of each child and the potential of each child to bring light and life to this world. May our faith overcome the cynicism to which we are too often prone and move us to action where inaction has been our response.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for hope. Renew once again within us the hope of a world where no child wakes hungry and faces the harshness of homelessness and violence. Remind us that hope is born in the process of walking with those who are in need and working alongside them for solutions to the problems of this world.

On this Children’s Sabbath we pray for love. May the love of God so infuse our hearts and minds that we are empowered to reach out in love to the children of this world. May we so love them that they learn to love one another and to give themselves in love to the world.

The truth is that the very children we seek to help are themselves sources of faith, hope and love in our world. Some of the solutions to childhood hunger and poverty in our state, nation and world will come from the very children who are struggling to grow up in the midst of those problems. Our allies in discovering solutions are the very ones we seek to help.

Our reflection returns us to the initial goal of Children’s Sabbath - to listen to the children. When we really listen to the voices of children, when we really listen to their needs and wants and hopes and dreams we discover that we are linked and bonded with them. Our future lies in the very children we seek to help.

God grant us the grace to never forget the children.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!