One of the delightful parts of being in children's ministry is simply interacting with the kids, each one incredibly different from the next. One day, I was alone in the building, when a young mom came in with her three very young children. I welcomed each one and collected hugs as they came down the hall ... except for Jeff, the 4-year-old, who was wearing a moody, long face. He refused to hug me, explaining that he was ALL OUT.
Just a week or so before, a retired teacher gave me a beautiful oak treasure chest that she had used for years in her classroom. Her now deceased husband had lovingly carved it for her. I had not decided what to do with this chest exactly, and had set it outside my office until I found a place for it. Jeff finally came in my office and wanted to know what was in the box. I told him to go look. He came back to report that the box was empty. I responded with a questioning look and told him he had better check again. After the lid was carefully lifted back on its hinges, Jeff looked so far into the chest that his little feet were about all that was left in my sight. Once again he returned with the answer that the box was indeed empty.
This time I accompanied him to the chest. I told him that the treasure chest was where I kept my hugs and asked him if he would like some. Mischievous 4-year-old eyes lit up, because he definitely wanted some of my treasure chest hugs. Carefully, I reached both hands down into the chest and pretended to scoop out hugs. (Then again, was I really pretending? After all, has anyone ever seen a hug before it's given?) I flung the invisible hugs toward the little boy, who immediately pretended to catch them and rub them all down the front of his shirt.
After several scoops I asked him if he needed one for his daddy and, of course, the answer was yes. I hefted the big hug from the wooden chest which, upon attempting to catch it, knocked Jeff off balance, stumbling backward and into the wall. What a vivid imagination! It was time for the little family to go, and this time when I asked Jeff for a hug, he said, "Sure!" and readily embraced me.
Every time he came in the building he had permission to open the chest and replenish his supply of hugs. I witnessed him doing that often over the next couple of months. One day, I met him at the chest; he was looking deep inside. I asked if I could toss out some hugs to him. That's when he looked up at me and said, "You do know that there's nothing in this chest, don't you?"
Jesus sent His disciples out into the world with the mission to enter the personal worlds of those they met. He wanted them to understand their life situations. To reach out to a child, to actually serve the littlest of children, sometimes that means entering their personal world--a world that understands the imaginary and embraces the places that only thoughts can go. When was the last time you laid down your inhibitions and shared a child's imagination?
The place was my office. The utensil God used was an empty oak chest. The result was two hearts restored to joy.