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A lesson from one of God’s ‘little ones’

“And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me…See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” —Matthew 18: 5, 10
When I read that Gospel passage recently, it reminded me of how God had been present in a humbling experience I had just a week before.
Every summer we gather for a month or more at our family lake cottages. Every year, dozens of family members and friends pass through to enjoy the beautiful place and each other’s company. But in recent years there has been one member, my nine-year-old niece, whose precocious personality has gotten under my skin, causing me stress and anger. I have gotten to the point of dreading her “attitude” and steeling myself against it.
At the beginning of the season this year, my wife and I were sharing our hopes, plans, and expectations for the summer and, of course, the subject of my niece came up. For some reason my wife does not share my struggle. I have watched her in amazement as she patiently directs and affirms my niece without one harsh word. My wife admonished me to try to be kind and patient with the child, reminding me that “after all she’s only nine.” I knew she was right. For goodness sake, I am in my 50s. I should be able to handle this situation.
When the family had come together at the lake, I found myself pulling a dozen or so of my nieces and nephews in groups of three on a large inner tube for a wild ride behind a boat. My nine-year-old niece, who had just finished a long ride and was now sitting right next to me, continued to ask for another ride—not once or twice but five times! I could feel the anger rising, but then I remembered my conversation with my wife. So I took a deep breath and said a very quick prayer and decided to address the situation in a new way.
I throttled back the engine and the boat coasted to a stop. I turned to face my niece and heard myself speaking very slowly and deliberately, trying not to let the years of pent-up frustration verbally blow her away. I explained calmly that I was the kind of person who, if you asked me something once and I didn’t say “no” then the answer would probably be “yes,” but if you keep asking me two, three, four, or five times, that “yes” would definitely be a “no.” At that, my little niece stood up with great concern on her face and pleaded, “Oh, Uncle Greg, can you forget the last four times I asked?”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her innocent sincerity, and my heart melted a little bit. I actually began to see her as she is—“nine going on twenty” and very gifted with self-awareness and tremendous verbal skills. Ever since that moment, our relationship changed and I began to see her as a precocious and lovely little girl. When the end of the vacation came, I actually found it sad to say goodbye to her most of all.
A week later, when I read the passage from Matthew’s Gospel, it struck me how Christ presented himself to me through my niece and called me to greater patience and kindness. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me”.
Greg Kremer is one of the senior members of RENEW International’s staff, working to expand RENEW’s ministry both domestically and internationally.

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