S AMUEL IS THE CHILD his mother longed for. She was barren. In the ancient world, a closed womb was cause for grief. Hannah, his mother, had much sorrow, so much that when she prayed for a baby, Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk.
The boy’s birth made her sing. It was a prophetic song, a revolutionary song. (See chapter 2.) Even though she had asked God for a child, she listened to an internal prompting that said this boy, Samuel, belonged to God.
The story is familiar to many of us. Eli is old. He’s had parenting heartaches. (Read the end of 1 Samuel 2.) And as the young Samuel ministers under Eli, he hears God’s voice three times.
Upon finally realizing through Eli’s direction that this was, indeed, the voice of God, Samuel gives his stunning answer in verse 10, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
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THE STORY of Samuel, then, does not start with the voice in the night, the trips down the hall, or with Eli’s training. This story starts with a mother who nursed him; who prayed for him; who sang over him; and who weaned him from her breast so that he would be free to learn how to minister to God.
On this road trip, we’re not traveling far physically, but what a journey this is. From a barren woman’s dream to birth. From birth to gift for God. From gift to God to prophet for us all.
This road trip calls us to consider what it means to be summoned into God’s presence; to know the prompting of divine voice, and to listen intently for directions for our work in the world.
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BUT, GROWN-UPS, there is something for us to hear.
Our children and youth have something to say. Listen. It might not be easy to hear. But it might well be the word of God for you.
Samuel had hard truths for Eli. His leadership is over. His betrayal of God has cost him his moral authority.
“Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him.”
Parents, adults, our children, the children of this world, have something to say about life around the house, life on this planet, life as Christians. They have something to say about our guilt in the state of the world. Hear their voice.
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I KNOW. I KNOW. Children and youth are easy to dismiss because of their age. What do they know? They haven’t experienced what we have. They have life too easy. They don’t understand the pressures.
Listen to the wisdom of our children. They are not the future. They are the now.
They have voice now. They have agency now. They have the word of God now. We must hear, no matter how hard the words might be to us.
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HERE’S A WORD to the children and youth: Change begins with you.
When we think about all there is to do for God in this world, the mountain top seems unreachable. It becomes a wearying headache with no relief in sight.
Where to begin? How to start? Start with the Bible and with prayer. God often begins with one — one person to be changed, one task to accomplish, one day to consider at a time. And in most every case, change begins with you, not the other person.
You need to begin with the true base point: you and God. You will not get anywhere unless you begin by humbly relying on his strength as you reach out to others.
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NKOSI JOHNSON was a South African child born with HIV and AIDS. He greatly influenced public perceptions of the pandemic and its effects. At the age of 8 he was denied admission to a school because of his illness. At this young age he came to the front as a voice for inclusion. He was the keynote speaker at the 13th annual International AIDS Conference. He died from this disease at 12 years old.
“Care for us and accept us — we are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk, we can talk, we have needs just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us — we are all the same!”
■ In our own time, there is Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who defied threats of the Taliban to campaign for the right to education for girls. She survived being shot in the head by the Taliban and has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights, and the right to education. She is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
— Age 16, UN Speech, July 12, 2013
■ Then there is the divisive Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist. She rose to prominence in 2018 when, at age 15, she protested climate change outside the Swedish Parliament. Her school strike quickly spread worldwide, making her a prominent spokesperson for environmental causes and global warming. Thunberg has traveled across the world speaking to leading political figures. She argues we need to take urgent action to reverse an imminent environmental disaster. She has become a global ambassador for the environmental movement.
“Our house is on fire, I am here to say our house is on fire. According to the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.”
— April 16, 2019
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YOU MAY AGREE OR DISAGREE with these youth. Some or all of what they say. You might applaud their message. You might disagree with the message. But you cannot dismiss the message simply because of their age.
God’s call comes when we least expect it and often to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises.
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SWIFT YOUTH, SWIFT CHILDREN, all God’s children — God is ready to use you. We need you now.
At age 15, St. Therese of Lisieux asked the pope for special permission to enter a convent early. She died aged just 23. After her death, her autobiography — Story of a Soul — was published and became a best-seller around the world. Her books explained her spiritual path of love and selflessness. She inspired many people, young and old, with her simple but meaningful philosophy.
“Our fulcrum is God: our lever, prayer; prayer which burns with love. With that we can lift the world!”
— St. Therese
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MOM AND DAD, GRANDPARENTS, ADULTS, we, as part of the church:
■ must encourage everyone to hear the voice that calls them forth into all they are created to be.
■ At the same time, we must help each other to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to hear.
■ And accept that truth when it comes to us — even from the mouth of babes.
“Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength.”
— Psalm 8 (Holy Bible, New King James Version)