Long ago in ancient times– when I was five years old– an old man in my church had a pocketful of anise mints. He handed one to each child after the church service. I do not remember the circumstances, but I do remember the mints and that he was approachable.
My husband kept a jar of orange slices on the bookshelf in his office. The door was always open, and often between church services or afterwards, children and adults passed through his door carrying an orange slice or chomping happily as they left his office. Mark, my husband, used this opportunity to convey the idea to anyone, young or old, that he was easy to approach.
Recently, I decided to follow the same pattern. I started carrying some kind of candy or treat in my purse, mainly for my grandchildren. After the morning service, three of the grands came looking for me to see what fun thing I had in my purse. Word spread. Now, I have become the Candy Nana. I feel a little like the Pied Piper of Candy at church.
Because I am flocked each week with wee ones looking for a handout, I decided that I needed to make them perform for the treat. First, I started with hugs. I can’t get enough of those. Then I decided that the hugs were coming from a disingenuous place, so I changed tactics. Now I ask the kids what they learned in Sunday School or Junior Church. They may have to sing a song or tell me what good thing they did during the week.
I like to surprise them by changing up the treat. This week was the ultimate disappointment, but boy, did I laugh! I gave the kids Dr. Suess bookmarks and black licorice nibs. I laughed as I watched the kids look suspiciously at the black pieces before tasting them tentatively. The facial expressions were worth every nib. When I gave them the bookmarks, they looked a little puzzled. I like to encourage reading books. Every Sunday cannot be about getting candy.
As I thought about this weekly candy handout–or candy welfare–I began to think about the reasons kids come to see me. I have something they want. While some like me because they know me well, others do not know me at all. The thing that matters to them is that I have something that they want. They do not want to miss out on a great opportunity to get something for free. They will do anything that I tell them to do for a piece of candy. Their affection may not be from the heart, but they will offer a hug anyway. Fundamentally, the kiddies are looking for a handout. (I’m not going to write about the parallels to our welfare system. I’m sure that you can see it for yourselves.)
I see the benefit to being around these kids. Older people–I cannot believe that I am putting myself in this category–can encourage these little people in a culture that often disregards children or pushes them away. Some children need someone to listen to them or show interest in them, even for a few minutes. I’m reminded that the disciples tried to detour the children from contact with Jesus, but Jesus gathered the little ones in his arms and spoke to them gently. He used them as an object lesson about faith and the kingdom of God.
I do not want to be the Old Ogre Church Nana. I like having the opportunity be approachable, as my husband demonstrated in his pastoral experience. Who knows if at a future point in one of these lives, I may have the chance to help, encourage, advise, or be a friend to a young person who once came on Sunday after church to Candy Nana for a licorice nib and a bookmark.