In case you weren’t aware, back in July I went out to Tokyo as part of a ‘Kids Gospel’ team. We hooked up with churches and ran clubs with them throughout the week where we taught the kids some English gospel songs and then performed them at a concert on the Saturday.
At the first church we went to there was one girl, Sara, who decided early on that my role on the team was mainly to give her piggy back rides – or in Japanese, “be a horse!” which makes much more sense to as a concept, but hey. So every time we took a break from teaching songs or playing games I would find her tugging on my arm, asking me to crouch down so she could jump on.
Now she was a cute little girl, even by Asian standards (it is a well acknowledged fact that Asian children are the cutest on the planet although there is debate as to whether Japan or Korea tops the list) meaning that I was initially fairly helpless to refuse her requests for piggy backs. And I enjoyed it. For the first 15 times.
But towards the end of the week I was tiring of constantly running around with a 7-year-old hanging off my neck and my patience was starting to run thin. I would still “be a horse” but my horse impressions were becoming increasingly Eeyore-like.
But on the Thursday evening I was planning the team devotions for the morning I and had the thought of looking at 1 Corinthians 13 – you know the passage, it’s the classic wedding reading, ‘Love is…’ In particular I was struck by the truth that ‘love is patient.’ As a team we were committed to modelling for the children God’s love and so I realised that I would need to demonstrate this sort of patient love to Sara, and the other kids, otherwise, as 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, I would be ‘nothing.’ (I had already resigned myself to the fact that no matter no loving I was, when it came to singing I would always be a ‘clanging gong’.)
So, Friday morning arrived, we looked at and prayed through Paul’s exhortations to love and went into the church hall. After about 2 minutes Sara arrived and about 12 seconds after that she was asking me to “be a horse.” So I did.
By the end of Friday I was exhausted, having lost count of the number of times I had carried Sara around the hall. Not to mention the other kids who also wanted in on the fun.
Later I was chatting to one of the missionaries who works at the church and she mentioned how much Sara had been jumping on me. Then she told me that it was possibly because Sara had no Father and so she didn’t often get the chance to play with men.
In that moment I was profoundly struck by the opportunity that I almost missed. Not an opportunity for me, but for Sara. For me, Sara was becoming a chore, giving her piggybacks was something I had to endure. For Sara, I was a chance to enjoy childhood, getting piggybacks was an experience for her to treasure.
The passage from Corinthians says that love is not just patient but also that love is ‘not self-seeking.’ I had missed that. I saw these ‘in-between’ moments as dead time for me to get past. I didn’t consider that for Sara they might be much more than that. (The idea of ‘the in-between’ is from the insight of Jeff Goins. His blog is definitely worth checking out: http://goinswriter.com.)
So now I think with sadness about when Sara will next get the chance to ride around on someone’s back. When will that be? And how many other children in Japan – or indeed elsewhere – are waiting for the Father figure they need to “be a horse”?
Now I know this story doesn’t really prove anything. It doesn’t prove that there are many absent Fathers in Japan. It doesn’t prove that children need male role models or piggybacks. It doesn’t prove that the Bible is true or powerful. Although I do think all those things are true.
But if you’re the praying kind, I hope this inspires you to pray for missionaries in Japan to be filled with 1 Corinthian 13 style patient, other-seeking love.
And whoever you are, I hope this might make you think twice the next time a little child asks you for a piggyback ride and you’re tempted to say no. I hope you’ll consider those moments from the viewpoint of a child who just wants to enjoy being with you.
Go on, be a horse!