When we are children, I doubt we think a lot about what the gifts of this season of life are. From early on we seem to focus on looking forward to growing up to get to do or be the next thing that we think is so exciting. And it doesn’t seem to be a habit we let go of very early until one day we realize we are getting older (or even old), and we didn’t even notice how age was creeping up on us while we were doing life.
Not everyone looks back on childhood with warm memories of that time. Even though we may idealize it, life doesn’t usually give us the ideal. Our parents aren’t perfect. We don’t get everything we want. Not all the things we get to learn are fun. (Few of us got excited about a list of spelling words to memorize or lists of math tables to review.) It doesn’t come to mind where our food will come from if we live in a decent socioeconomic area. Though it may be simple fare and not what we enjoy, someone else usually provides it and gets clothes for us and provides us with a bed.
But beyond all that, childhood offers most of us more free time to go off exploring and not having to account for our time than any other season we will live. We spend our hours from the time we get up until we go to bed discovering the world around us from the ground up because we are “little” and closer to the ground.
As a result, we notice things we barely see as inch upon inch causes us to get taller. We are fascinated by the most ordinary stone we discover on the ground where we are crawling or sitting. Each new thing brings with it delight or maybe pain. The stories others read to us stimulate our imaginations and when we are off discovering we can easily see ourselves as not unlike some of the characters in those stories. We can be a ballerina, a butterfly, an astronaut, or a hundred other things.
As children we are learning the basics and no matter how much we may discount them as being all that important. Most of those things will remain a part of us for the rest of our lives. (Well, not the part about being a butterfly or the next Spiderman perhaps.)
“Children’s stories go over, inch by inch, the ground on which we spend the rest of our lives eating and sleeping, walking and running, playing and working, fighting and loving, cursing and blessing.”Eugene Peterson
By the time we are grown up, we don’t think much about those basics but it’s not only those physical basics like walking and talking, eating, and dressing ourselves that stay with us. So do those ordinary things like telling stories and what’s happening in our days, asking questions, naming things, and counting things.
“We never get away from the basics, but we do lose sensitivity to them. When we’re new to them, experiencing them for the first time, we hear and see and feel intensely. Gradually, our perceptions dull as we become preoccupied with other things. But they’re no less there, no less basic.”Eugene Peterson
Is it possible when Jesus was telling those who followed Him when He walked the earth to become like children that He was addressing their dullness of their spiritual senses? Had they gotten so caught up in religious practices and rituals they no longer were in awe of who God is?
Start reading one of the great stories of the Bible to a child, and he or she gets totally into the story. They are right there with David choosing just the right smooth stones to take out Goliath or marching along with the Israelites outside the walls of Jericho or looking at wonder at the walls of water they were walking through as the Red Sea parted. Of course, it happened that way and they are caught up in the excitement of the “God story” and what it must have been like while their parents are simply reading the words of a story without much thought to the visceral experience of living in that story.
Jesus told us in more than one place that we were to be like a child. Have we missed what He was reminding us of?
“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”Matthew 18:2-5 (NIV)
The crowd around Jesus didn’t think the children were all that important or significant. They weren’t studying the Torah or learning the trade of their fathers. They were just children, but Jesus makes it plain to them they possess qualities those who are older need to learn or relearn again.
What would it be like if we read that daily Bible passage through the eyes of a child? What would it change in us? How much more would we appreciate and see of God than we do through the eyes of an adult that doesn’t put themselves in the story? Have our imaginations become so stale that we don’t think about the sound of the storm as we were rocking on the ark with Noah wondering when it would ever stop? Can we not imagine how scary it would have been for Esther to be taken into the palace and groomed to be in the harem of the king (let alone be reminded by her uncle that she needed to try to save all the people from whom she descended)?
Yes, we are to grow up and put away childish things, but not to put away our childlike discovery and delight in the basics, our awe and fascination with God’s greatness and grand story.