At St. Gertrude Church, my home parish, our pastor emeritus is a brilliant guy who still gives homilies that are both witty and profound, erudite and down-to-earth. His replacement, our new pastor, is a story-teller. He enjoys teasing out theological insights from the simplicity (and complexity) of everyday life.

But as much as I like to hear what these smart, holy men have to say, and as much as I learn from them, I usually don’t sit as close to the pulpit as I probably should. Instead, I’m in the back of church because that’s where parents with little kids tend to hang out.

I’m a sucker for little kids. I loved watching my own at that age, and it’s still great fun to see the latest crop of tiny new humans toddle around and stare with wonder at this world of ours. And, more than fun, these children — many of whom have a vocabulary limited to “Mommy” and “Daddy” — preach the greatest sermons in the world.

Totally unselfconscious, little kids teach great lessons because they interact with life directly. They don’t second-guess themselves. When they’re face to face with life, they don’t blink. For anyone trying to keep in touch with God, they’re great guides. Here’s how:

{1} Children are filled with wonder. The two-year-old boy in a miniature baseball uniform stands on the wooden pew, holding on carefully, as he looks up the huge stained glass window exploding with color illuminated by late morning sun. He doesn’t know the window depicts a moment in the life of St. Joan of Arc. He’s just fascinated by all the radiant blues, reds and greens. He’s a reminder to me that, whenever I’m tempted to feel bored or find life dull, I should open my eyes.

{2} Children cry. Yeah, Yeats was a great poet, and Lincoln a great writer. But when it comes to eloquence, nothing compares with a child’s cry. Little kids are, as the psychologists say, “in touch with their feelings.” They don’t hold back when they have something to express, much to their parents’ dismay, such as when that moment of expression happens to be during the Consecration. They’re honest and direct. They don’t play emotional games as adults often do. What you see — and hear — is what you get.

{3} Children listen. As a grown-up, I’m often tempted to think I have everything figured out. I know what I think, I know what I like to eat, I know what my politics are. But, then, I notice the four-year-old girl in the frilly pastel blue dress kneeling next to her mother a few pews ahead of me. She looks intently into her Mom’s face as the mother, bending down, whispers something to her. Kids know how hard it is to do what they’re told, and they’re not always successful. But they try — hard. They realize that they’re learning about what life is and how it works, and they’re open to anyone who can help them understand what it means to be human. That’s a sort of learning that never comes to an end. Or shouldn’t.

{4} Children are flexible. The boy with the thick blond curls has a mind of his own. As he squirms and twists this way and that in his father’s arms, he’s demanding his freedom to be set down so he can make another try at this interesting new discovery of his: walking. Finally, he’s deposited on the open, carpeted space in the back of church and takes two quick if awkward steps before tripping on his own feet and falling face-forward – bam! But, without a peep, he’s up and at it again, for another round of step, trip and fall. Nagged as I am with the aches and pains of middle-age, I’m jealous of the boy, but also thankful to him for bringing back to mind a time when I was so physically limber.

{5} Children trust. The baby, no more than eight- or nine-months-old, is being held by his mother close to her chest. He gazes for a moment over her shoulder at me and the other people around him, and then he sets his head down and, forming himself to fit the contours of his mother’s body, promptly falls asleep. It’s difficult for adults to trust so deeply. We know what it’s like to be let down, even betrayed. But, just as Jesus on the cross is an image of the sacrifice that love demands, that sleeping baby is a symbol of the trust we have to have in God and in each other. Without that trust, it’s a cold, cold life.

{6} Children are friendly. As my wife and I stand together in the back of church, we see a little girl in pigtails toddle up to the woman next to us, lift her arms and silently ask to be picked up. The woman, glancing at the girl’s mother for an OK, reaches down and picks her up. After a moment or two, the girl wiggles to be let down, and toddles over to my wife and lifts her arms. And then to me. And then the stone-faced usher to my right who, with a sudden smile, takes his turn picking her up. We, adults, trade smiles. Her new circle of friends.

{7} Children love. The three-year-old girl, holding a blue crayon, looks up from her coloring book on the seat of the pew and asks her sister, no more than a year or two older, “Is my picture beautiful?” The older girl looks at the mass of blue scratchings and says, “Oh, it’s super beautiful.” And, in that moment, you can see the love that both girls have been taught at home. You can see how the younger girl reaches out in love. And you can see how the older sister responds with love — and loves being able to be the giver. Kids know what’s important.

{8} Children are fresh. For me, looking at a tiny, tiny newborn baby asleep in her father’s arms, or at two brothers with identical knit sweaters and identical haircuts, or at a five-year-old girl singing along with congregation — it’s like looking at a flower in my wife’s garden. Oftentimes, I feel like a huge oak tree, strong and solid, but long battered by the winds of life. Those little kids are flowers at the early moment of blossoming. They are new beauty and promise and inspiration.

{9} Children are filled with joy. The boy in the brown park district t-shirt, standing at the end of the pew, spots his friend, also in a brown park district t-shirt, walking into church with his parents. His eyes go wide with delight, and the two boys bend their heads together for a moment to say hi and arrange to meet after the service. Children don’t put a lot of brakes on their emotions. That means that they experience their anger, confusion, frustration and all the other difficult feelings very deeply. But it also means that, when they’re happy, they’re really happy.

{10} Children believe. I know her parents must have gone through a minor hell in the last day or so, but the two-year-old girl with the new bandage awkwardly taped over her right eye seems to be taking her injury, whatever it was, in stride. She pages through the hymnal, then examines the wood of the pew in front of her, and then, as everyone sits for the sermon, she leans comfortably against her Dad’s side and, gazing up with her one eye, studies the church’s intricate ceiling. Life has brought this injury to her, but she’s not soured by it. She expects life to be good — at least, generally good. Even with its bumps and pains.

Patrick T. Reardon
Reality magazine, 2009

Written by : Patrick T. Reardon

For more than three decades Patrick T. Reardon was an urban affairs writer, a feature writer, a columnist, and an editor for the Chicago Tribune. In 2000 he was one of a team of 50 staff members who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Now a freelance writer and poet, he has contributed chapters to several books and is the author of Faith Stripped to Its Essence. His website is

Leave A Comment