Kids know a good thing when they see it. Imagine the scene – so many children running up to Jesus that the disciples feel they must step in and stop them. Sort of like protecting the Good Humor man when he rolls his truck into the neighborhood! Jesus encourages the children to come forward and holds back his well-meaning desciples with a sharp rebuke. He tells them that they can only receive the kingdom of heaven if they can do so as a child. Strange advice to give grown men, but Jesus is referring to the absolute openness and trusting love of kids. Children always see the wonder of life while adults see the pitfalls. As a child, I recall the Jersey shore boardwalk as a magical place of pure fun. The store lights twinkled like stars and the smells of caramel popcorn, salt-water taffy and warm-from-the-griddle waffles and ice cream would make your mouth water. Going back to the shore as an adult, I saw every splinter in the aging wooden walk (I walked it barefoot as a kid!), the twinkling stars were really gaudy neon and the sweet smells could be nauseateing if the wind was right. However, as I looked at my kids, they were fairly quivering with excitement as we paused to get our bearings. The amusement parks, concession stands and souvenir shops are as exciting to them as I remember them being to me way back when.
That’s what happens as you get older, though. You no longer see all things as being possible, but instead can point out every possible problem. Case in point: kids choose bike helmets for the cool colors and designs while parents look at the safety rating. I remember my kids sleigh riding each winter in our backyard. They stood at the top of the hill, surveying the slalom-style run that their dad had helped them with and dreamt of the best sleigh ride ever. As I watched them, I was mentally navigating all the roads and intersections between my drive way and the nearest emergency room. Children are innocent wonderment: adults are jaded and cynical. Children see the entire world opening before them, adults see only obstacles. No wonder Jesus instructs us to become more like children. Faith is a matter of the heart and their hearts are still soft and supple, not yet scarred and clogged with cholestrol.
The Bible give us many examples of such uncluttered, simple faith. There’s David, dancing for all his might before the ark. His joy is uninhibited in the same way that my son would run through a sprinkler on a hot summer day. He’s not worried about the water being too cold, or tripping over a tree root, or stepping on a bee. He’s just running for sheer joy. Look at Mary, whose trusting response to the angel is a simple “May it be as you have said”. I would have had a lot more to say to that angel and not much of it would have been exactly positive.
Of course, there is the outspoken side of childhood, too. I’m reminded of Peter at the Last Supper. When Jesus washed the apostle’s feet, he was giving them a two-fold lesson in humility and unconditional love. The apostles didn’t understand and were shocked by Jesus’ actions (you’d think they would know better by know, but some things never change- even today). Peter is the only one to ask the question that they are all thinking, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” It is too humiliating to think of his Lord and Master crouching down to massage his dirty toes. But Jesus assures him that even though he doesn’t understand, he should allow Jesus to do this thing. It will become clear to him later. Still Peter refuses; in fact he gives Jesus an outright “No!” Jesus explains that unless Peter sticks out those troublesome feet of his and allows Jesus to perform this act of service, Peter cannot enjoy the fellowship of his Master. Looking back through history, we can see the symbolic overtones. This act of humble love will be eclipsed by Jesus’ ultimate act of love and service on the cross. Unless we accept that Jesus’ death was a gift to reconcile us to Himself then we can have no fellowship with Him. Peter, lacking the benefit of such hindsight, has no idea of what Jesus is talking about, but he recognizes that rejection of Jesus in not an option. With the exuberance of a child who doesn’t know what he’s getting into but still jumps headfirst anyway, Peter offers his whole body to Jesus.
These are examples which God has set before us. These three people are open, loving, trusting, hopeful and totally focused on God. Our own children continue the lesson today. They exhibit such excitement about God’s creation whether they are catching fireflies in a jar or snowflakes on their tongues. So I’ve been trying to spend more time with kids, not just my own but the neighborhood kids, church kids, school kids. Maybe by hanging out with these children, I can catch a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. Maybe, just maybe I will see Mary or David or Peter as they clamor up the back steps to ask for more Kool-Aid and another bag of popcorn. Maybe, just maybe my heart will lighten and my eyes will open as I laugh at their silly jokes or revel in their hugs as they come bounding off the school bus. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find myself loosening up and becoming more like them and consequently more like Him.