They are in the nursery. In the classroom. While we work and worship, they care for our children in back rooms and church basements, sharing the love of Jesus with those in their care.
We gather in our sanctuaries and our auditoriums, watching the people onstage as they lead and teach us, grateful for their gifts. Then we pick up our children from Sunday School and go home.
They are in the care homes and the group homes, these people who patiently shave faces and clean up messes without damaging a person’s dignity.
I have a vivid memory of a visit to my mother’s place and seeing a caregiver kneeling to tenderly rub lotion on the feet of a woman who couldn’t acknowledge her presence, talking to her gently as she worked.
Every mother and caregiver understands obscurity. They do the invisible, unpraised work of holding a child in the dark, listening to a tantrum while the kitchen timer ticks down, ministering to their bodies and their souls while others produce, achieve and perform.
Like a farmer who plants and tends the crop so that others can eat, their work is vital. Studies of orphans and the traumatized show us how crucial it is for a child to feel loved and safe.
Horror stories from understaffed nursing homes highlight how vital human kindness is to the most vulnerable. And yet the hard work of that nurturing goes largely unnoticed.
I remember how my children ran with joy to their Sunday School rooms, how their tears from separation dried quickly under the loving care of the nursery workers. I remember the kindnesses shown in my mother’s dementia wing and I am grateful for these places and these workers who gladly use their gifts for the good of others.
Just last week my son bounced and chattered with joy in the back seat on our way to see his respite provider, hardly sparing me a goodbye hug as he ran gleefully to greet them.
The results of this kind of nurturing are often taken for granted. Like the food that sustains us day by day, unacknowledged unless it is missing, warm memories of God’s house, the security of boundaries, and the tenderness of a mother establish a foundation that allows children to stand against later storms as those hours of sacrifice poured into them hardens into the concrete of stability.
Even those – maybe especially those – who spurn the sacrifices love made for them, they still know.
This work requires humility. A willingness to lay their preferences aside for the good of others. A sacrifice of hiddenness so that others can take the stage.
There is little earthly reward for changing diapers, wiping noses or rocking a distressed child into calm, except for the approval of God who said, “Whoever gives one of these little ones a cup of water in my name…”
The last shall be first,” Jesus promised. I like to think it’s the mothers, the care workers, and all those who have loved and sacrificed in obscurity who will be escorted to the front to be finally seen by all.
The very ones who would prefer to stay in the back and watch others shine will receive back in abundance the love they have so freely given.
And I, for one, can’t wait to witness it.