Just Kids.Posted: January 26, 2012
And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
I don’t know if I took this passage very seriously before a couple weeks ago. I grew up in the church, and I have heard it a bunch of times; it’s a passage that Sunday school teachers use to try and get their pupils to take church a little more seriously (“See kids? Jesus actually preached about you little delinquents darlings!”).
And the reason I didn’t take it seriously was because I hadn’t really thought about all the implications of what Jesus was actually saying (which, actually, is a pretty big pitfall we have when we read the Bible). I thought he meant we need to be innocent, come to him for comfort, tell him what we need, rely on him, etc. (And these are good things; it’s probably bad that I didn’t take these things more seriously).
But I think to be childlike is also to be more the way God designed us to be like. Sure, we have a sin nature, and kids aren’t immune to it. But being a child is what we are before we get life’s baggage, and unfortunately, life happens and exists in a broken world, and we become broken people quickly.
Someone once said that one of my problems is that I have been trained to see things a certain way, and I’ve become convinced that that’s “me.” For instance: my fear of failure and rejection. I was convinced that these qualities are just normal, and there’s not much to be done with that. However, this person explained that children are naturally curious, and they naturally try things; they are hardwired to do this because otherwise, how else would they learn?
And to extend that thought: children are also vulnerable. They are small. They don’t know a lot of stuff. They generally don’t have an income. And they also don’t know what heartache, fear, discomfort, disappointment, pain, risk, death, and the other inevitable parts of life are until they have experienced or witnessed it in some sense. Sure, parents and well-meaning adults can try their hardest to prevent children from experiencing these things, but the problem with the inevitable parts of life is that they are inevitable.
So to be like a child ready to enter the kingdom of heaven, I have to be ready to be simultaneously curious, courageous, risk-taking, and vulnerable.
That’s kind of scary and a little counterintuitive.
But it’s true.
On Don Miller’s blog, he posted about vulnerability and why vulnerability is a key to emotional health. In the post, he linked a video of a sociologist in a TED talk, and she talked about her research, and how after a long struggle with this topic, she discovered and had to accept that the happiest and content people are people who are willing to be emotionally vulnerable.
And one might ask: “Well, wait a sec: being emotionally vulnerable means I’m going to be a punching bag.” Which is not what she (or Miller) means. They are merely stating a fact: in order to completely feel loved by someone, you have to open yourself up to be loved… which means that there is a possibility that you will at some point not be loved by someone to whom you made yourself vulnerable.
The reason why people do not want to be vulnerable is because it is possible to be hurt, and to be hurt badly. Life can be unkind. So invulnerability is a protective measure.
But if one does not open oneself up to be vulnerable, something more destructive happens: if one becomes invulnerable to love, even partially invulnerable, one does not experience the fullness true love offers.
The same goes for God. If we do not make ourselves vulnerable, and let go of things we think we can control, (our money, our comforts, the things we think protect us etc.), we will not fully experience the fullness of life he offers us. If we do not take risks, and go where he wants us to go (in ministry, in serving him, in serving others), we may be safer, but we will be living a diminished version of the life he has designed us for. If we do not take the risk of hurt, we will not grow, and we will also not fully partake in the blessings of the gospel.
I also remember something that Vince mentioned in a sermon back in the fall (I think): the good news is that when we make ourselves vulnerable (to God, to others, etc.), we can rest in the promise that God can pick us up again.
To continue the child-metaphor: I think many of us can remember a time when we tried something new (swingsets, riding a bicycle, toboggins), and things did not end so well for us (face plants, skinned knees… etc.) And I don’t remember my parents promising me that these activities meant that I wouldn’t face these consequences.
But when these things did happen, one of them was usually around with bandaids, hugs, encouragement, and other forms of comfort. And if our earthly parents are so willing to comfort and take care of us, how much more will our Heavenly Father, who is Perfect Love, comfort and care for us when we fall?
He will. He says he will. But the only way we can fully experience this is if we become like little children.