I bought the sheep for camp, to be hidden around the camp as part of reading the parable of the lost sheep. In the years since that camp, the sheep has been a resident of my office. He's been used in other skits and conversations since there are a lot of sheep in the Bible. Kids love to come and take him from his shelf and play with him, always carefully putting him back in his place when asked.
The sheep should probably have a name, but so far, he's just a sheep.
In worship on Sunday mornings, we're reading through the stories of Elijah. It's a bit of a personal self-indulgence for these stories that I love. This past week, we read the story of Elijah being sent to a widow's home and providing miraculous oil and flour to keep her household alive through the drought. As I have other times, I came to worship with a bag of items to be sorted into stacks of wants and needs. This time, I gave the kids the task of sorting the items.
This is one of those things that sounds so simple. It sounds like something somewhat funny and likely meaningful and definitely not heartbreaking. That's what it sounds like, until the kids started sorting.
I always throw a roll of toilet paper into the mix. Adults nervously sort it into a need and are grateful when I assure them that's where I intended it to go. On Sunday, the kids stuck it firmly into a want. Some of the decisions were absolutely developmentally driven. A skillet and the adult-level book were quickly placed into wants while the children's book made it into needs. An angel that I chose as a decorative item made it into needs as symbolic of faith.
And the four-year-old helping with this endeavor put every single soft, snuggly item on the needs table without hesitation. I had intended for the blanket to go on the table of needs. The emoji throw pillow was intended for the wants table. The stuffed sheep was definitely intended for the wants table. But for the four-year-old, bedtime quickly emerged: a blanket, a pillow, a stuffed animal to snuggle. He was right. A four-year-old needs those things.
A few adults understandably chuckled at the stuffed animal added to the need table. I reminded them that when we collected items for asylum seekers, stuffed animals for comfort objects were included on the list of needs. Because four-year-olds need stuffed animals. So do three-year-olds and five-year-olds and six-year-olds and seven-year-olds and a lot of eight-year-olds. Nine-year-olds and ten-year-olds-and eleven-year-olds and twelve-year-olds and maybe even teenagers who have been through a lot also need stuffed animals. Those kids might even rank that need above things adults worry about kids having.
There are so many things to say about children locked in detention right now. They are being traumatized, day in and day out. Ninety percent of brain development happens by age 5, so we are talking deep trauma that will affect them for their entire lives. Our society will literally pay the cost for years to come. We could talk about our call to love neighbor. We could talk about basic human rights. We could say so very many things.
But at very least, I say this: let us never become so hard-hearted that we forget that a four-year-old needs a stuffed animal.