Becoming Like a Child

I’ve teaching at a youth/college camp this week and while doing so, I gave an illustration that I want to elaborate more fully on here. The subject of our camp this week has been the Love of God. We’re not interested primarily in doctrinal clarity in which we articulate our theological belief in God’s benevolence. No. It’s more practical than that. The aim of the week has been for these teens/college age young people, and myself, though not college age, to grasp what it means to be truly, completely, loved by God. This is not easy for us. I’m assuming St. Paul also knew living in light of God’s love was difficult because he prayed:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:16-19)

Paul prayed that God, who loves his children infinitely, would enable them to grasp this infinite love. Paul understood it’s difficulty, especially for us “adults.” We “adults” are far to aware of the skeletons in our closest. I have them. I’ve done some really bad things with really long-lasting consequences. I have done things which cause me shame and guilt today, over a decade since those decisions were made. So, as an “adult” I struggle to see myself as anything other than a failure, a nobody, a sinner.

At this point you may wonder why I keep putting adult in quotation marks. Well, it’s because I don’t think we are “adult” at all. Let me move to my illustration.

In my attempt to describe the unfathomable, unending, limitless love of God for his people, I shared a little about my love for my two children. My two children could not do anything that would make me love them less. My two kids are crazily loved by me not because of anything except their being mine. I just love them so incredibly much. And, my love frees them, especially my two-year-old, not so much my four-month-old. My two-year-old wants to play with me all day, always asking for daddy to “hold you” (her way of saying “hold me”). She’s constantly talking to me, asking me to color with her, run with her, play “hide”, or whatever. She doesn’t dwell on her “past failures.” Actually, within minutes after her receiving some form of discipline, she returns to her bubbly, I-love-my-parents self. Since she’s our only child that can talk, she shows how grateful she is for her meals or drinks as she’ll say “Oh, thank you!” when you put a plate or cup in front of her. And, you know what I love most about her age? There is an amazing sense of awe and wonder with everything. And, I literally mean everything.

I share all that to say this: when you consider the breadth of time the Bible says God’s children will live, we are a lot more like my young children than my not-so-young-self. The problem is, we’ve grown up.  Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 18:3) Children don’t take themselves too seriously. But, we “adults” take ourselves far, far to seriously. We are so proud of our feeble accomplishments. So what? You’ve earned another 50K sheet of paper. Yay. So what? You’ve earned $1 million dollars, all of which will be disbursed to the state and dependents upon your inevitable death. In the midst of our fixation on earthly items and statues (and I’m not over this either), we lose our basic sense of helplessness.

My daughter asks for help a lot. Sadly, she’s also starting to get to the stage of saying “I do it” often, too. But, in reality, there are lots and lots of things she can’t do. Here’s one example. She doesn’t put her own meals together. They must be provided by her parents. What’s ironic is how I treat the meals I make myself. She’s thankful because she’s seen tangible help in her meal being provided. Yet, when I sit down to a meal, I honestly believe my ingenuity, skills, intelligence and acumen made my meal appear. No. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, “Like children, remember that even your meals come from the hand of the Good Father.”

When it gets down to it, I’m helpless. I cannot tell my heart to stop beating. Naturally speaking, it will beat until it runs out of energy. While I can hold my breath, after I wake up from passing out, I’ll learn that despite my best natural effort, my attempt to keep air out of my lungs failed because they knocked me out, kept breathing and woke me back up. My grandfather had a stroke about a year or so before he died. During that time he desperately wanted to rehab his debilitated side, but couldn’t. He was rather frustrated that limbs that had always worked fine suddenly he became powerless to move. We are helpless, much like my children.

We forget this too often. We think when we hit middle age we are coming into our own. But, step back and look at eternity. God’s children will be resurrected and granted immortality to live, eat, explore and worship on this renewed earth forever. So, in light of forever, am I more like a middle-aged man or an infant? Infant all the way. And, the way I love my infant, even though me being self and short-sighted, is far more than I could imagine. If that is true, how much more does God love you? How much more does God care and provide for his young, helpless children? Sure, we think we’re all that, but anyone ever got a paper cut? Seriously?!

C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest authors ever, once said that God wants his people to have “grown up minds but a child’s heart.” He wants to grow in our understanding of God and his world, but like a child who learns and wonders more, we, too, are to grow in wonder and awe as well. We are to have knowledge, but also the knowledge that we are ultimately helpless. We are to, like my daughter, delight in playing and talking with our Father. We are to be more free, comfortable and open with our Father than my children are with me. Why? Because God is a far, far better Father.

Becoming like a child essentially means seeing yourself in light of eternity and reality. In terms of eternity, know you and I don’t know a whole lot. Actually, our body of knowledge, no matter how vast or how many books you’ve read, is a syringe of water in the oceans of Earth. In light of reality, know that microscopic organisms can ravish a body (my mom started fighting cancer at the age of 24 and died at 48, the same age my dad died of heart disease fifteen years ago). Despite our puffed-up visions of ourselves, a tiny little infection sends us reeling. When we being seeing ourselves in this light, who knows, we may even live the joyful life my kids do. We may find wonder in all things. We may delight in just being awake, not wanting to sleep too much so as not to miss anything this wonderfully created world offers.

Until a certain age, children are naturally humble. They know they need help. Pride is taught them by their culture and their parents. So, Jesus’ words to become like a little child uncovers the root of the issue. You cannot be proud and find God. Like a child, you must see yourself realistically, rather small in comparison to the world around, rather limited in your expertise, rather helpless when it comes to basic necessities, but crazily, unimaginably loved by your Father.

May we, by our Good Father’s grace, become like children.

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