I attend after school evangelism clubs these days as a part of my new job. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I am a part of kids lives for just over an hour, kids I had never met a month ago. New kids every week, mostly, but every so often I get to repeat schools and see the same little girls week after week, and it fills my soul, the new familiarity of it all.
I have learned something, something I didn’t fully understand before. There is immense power in being known, in being seen, in hearing your name called and being looked in the eye. I feel as if, before this season, I have always had that in abundance, which is purely a gift from God in every way. But lately, I am beginning to understand our need for it. My need for it, and these kids’ need for it.
I am curious, constantly, about their stories. Valery, the quiet, gentle girl I get to see on Thursdays, with beautiful, long curly hair. Noah, the hilariously adorable kindergarten on Tuesdays. Sweet and disobedient Anthony, who I see on Wednesdays, who wasn’t there last week, who I was told got suspended. They are all people, and they all need to be known. They’re not different from me, nor I from them.
And so I try, in my one hour, to be a person in their lives. A person who sees and loves another person. Not an authority figure, not a teacher, not a “grown up”, but child of God loving another child of God. I try to see them as God sees them, and I fail horribly every week, I’m sure.
But I’m also learning that it doesn’t take much. None of us really need praise or accolades or things. We just need to know we’re valued, that our lives have worth, that we are known. And if I lose sight of those truths on a daily basis, I am certain these kids do too.
So I catch their eyes, and I call them by name, and an interesting thing happens as they bloom in front of me. The shy ones catch my eye back, I needing their recognition just as much as they need mine. And I feel as if this is the heart of ministry, of being a Christian. It’s not about the programming, it’s not about the eloquence of words. It’s about making every single person you come in contact with known under your gaze.
As I sat in the airport this past week, settling into a chair and waiting to board, a list of names was called over the loud speaker. I’m usually not very tuned into announcements in airports, but this one called my name. Literally. Amongst a list of names read was mine, telling me to come to the front desk (to pick up my boarding pass, I soon learn).
And it struck me, how long it had been since I had heard my whole name. It feels like eternity, at least. But it had power. Names do. I felt known, I had a name. And I am always, I’m learning, craving for it to be spoken.
And yet, I celebrate because I am learning in this season that my name is more than letters on a page. My identity rests in my very bones, in my title as an image bearer of God. And with every breath, even in the middle of a city of strangers, I am known simply because of who I am. Names change, thoughts change, tendencies change, seasons change. But who I am is inherent, in my DNA. I am a child of God, and nothing can ever change that. It requires no recognition, demands no notice. It simply is. I think of how God tells us to be still and to know that He is God. It is as if we are the moon and He is the son and we simply reflect who He is without having to do a thing. We just sit there. We are just still.
And that is something to celebrate, because I cannot muster up identity every day. It takes far too much energy, and I fail pretty much every time, especially in a season of change. But today I rest into the identity I can never lose, and I pray that the kids I come in contact with would know it, too.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.