First published in the Oct. 21 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples get upset when people start bringing their children to Jesus, and Jesus counters their concerns by saying, “Let the children come to me, do not stop them.”
These words haunted me for days as I studied this passage. I remember thinking, “For God’s sake (literally!), let the children come to Jesus! What’s the problem!”
In the past few weeks two young people I know personally tried to take their own lives. Both from different backgrounds and upbringings, both from loving families, yet both felt compelled to do what they did. One of these young persons succeeded — a very dear young man who was 21 years old and too sensitive for the world around him.
It is devastating to know that persons so young, while knowing and being loved by their families, do not know that they are beloved.
What does it mean to be beloved? More to the question, what does it mean to not just feel that we are beloved, but to know that we are beloved?
To know that we are beloved is to rest in the truth that as a creature, created by God in love, we have purpose and we are worthy — worthy of love, intended just as we are, and that we are accepted and unique as to our purpose.
Knowing we are beloved children of God is more than an expression; truly knowing this gives us peace. The world certainly won’t give us this peace. I don’t know the depths of despair that this young man felt, but I thought a lot about how people are very quick to curse each other instead of bless each other. We curse each other when we tell someone they aren’t good enough, perfect enough, pretty enough, talented enough or religious enough.
Christianity is not a religion of perfection — in other words, we don’t have to be perfect in order to be “allowed” in. Jesus invites us to come to him where we are. With the recent exposés concerning social media algorithms and their destructive influences, young people especially absorb society’s pre-occupation with perfectionism. To say that God doesn’t love you because you aren’t perfect is even worse. Such claims only add dimensions of unworthiness that are profoundly more destructive because this can leave us to question our very existence.
If as Christians we believe in love and transformation and reconciliation and all of these things, then how are we helping kids to know that they are worthy, loved, important and perfect just the way they are?
If the church is telling teens that they aren’t good enough, holy enough or loved enough because their behavior isn’t perfect, then we are failing the next generation of adults. Anxiety, and worse, suicide, which is more prevalent than ever (more prevalent than teens being killed in car accidents, according to the latest research) then we aren’t doing enough.
Jesus as God’s beloved “with whom God was well pleased” inherited all that God had to give. Jesus’ ministry passed on this same beloved-ness onto us.
For God’s sake! Let the children come to Jesus so they know they are beloved. We need to start there and not end there. Give children the opportunity to understand peace, unity, love, acceptance, compassion and so much more. If we wait for perfection, it may just be too late.
Rev. Jenifer M. Chatfield is the rector at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church.