Several months ago, my youngest son, Micah, said something that changed how I see the world. After picking my boys up from school, I noticed Micah had a sucker. Now, you must understand something. He has an unhealthy affinity to all things sweet, especially suckers. So, I jokingly asked him to share his sucker. Micah looked at me, and in his serious voice, said,
“No, daddy. You can’t have my sucker. But maybe one day, when you grow little like me, you can go to my class and get your own sucker.”
After saying this, he walked away. Like a boss. At the time, I thought the whole thing was hilarious. In his little mind, I would at some point regress to my three-year-old self and hang with him at school.
In the days and weeks after, however, his words replayed dozens of times in my mind. “One day, when you grow little…One day, when you grow little…” Same words, over and over.
His words sound strangely similar to something Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel.
“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Unless you change and grow little. God used my son to remind of an important truth about true life. There’s something about the nature and character of little kids that reflects heaven.
To fully understand Jesus’ words, you must see heaven as a present reality more than a future destination. Heaven is something you can experience right now, a place where the virtues of love, joy, and peace frame your worldview. It’s a right now place that leaves no room for fear or anxiety, hatred or comparison. Children find this place much easier than adults.
Make no mistake, becoming like a child is a radical shift. Jesus is saying, in essence, you won’t find heaven at the top of any ladder. It can’t be bought or purchased. Go ahead acquire all the stuff you want. Climb to the top of the mountain, if you choose. You won’t find what you’re looking for there. Instead, you’ll find it right here, by watching these children. Scandalous words, if you ask me.
What does it mean to be childlike? Well, I’m not sure I have all the answers. But I’ve watched little children a lot the last few years. And here’s what I’ve observed.
Children see the world without labels or prejudices.
Children often have a better understanding of truth than adults, mostly because truth isn’t distorted by bias, prejudice or labels. Children don’t have political affiliations, and they don’t recognize trendy styles. They don’t recognize racial divides or label others as dangerous based on religious preference.
As we move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, our innocent, unobstructed view of the world becomes tragically filtered through our allegiances to political parties, church denominations and TMZ.
Love your country, family, and denomination. But don’t assume God recognizes such things.
While I’m not against love of country, family or denomination, it’s toxic to think God recognizes such things. When God looks at the world, and it’s seven plus billion people, he doesn’t see nationalities, races or economic classes. He sees people. Just people. One of our greatest challenges as adults is to see the world this way, as God sees it, without borders and divisions.
I’m not saying we equate unity with sameness. That’s usually a recipe for convincing everyone to conform with your worldview. God loves diversity. He sees beauty in all people and cultures, from the Big Apple to Buenos Aires. What I’m saying is we all love to guide our steps, not fear or skepticism or elitism.
Children embrace vulnerability.
It’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t protect the image of its heroes. It doesn’t even protect the image of God. Abraham doubts. Moses kills a dude. King David gets himself into a heap of trouble. And throughout most of the Old Testament, God appears rather angry. Even the lineage of Jesus includes dead beats and prostitutes.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always struggled with the weaknesses of, well, everyone. Why not leave some of that stuff out? Why not summarize King David’s murderous, adulterous, fiasco by saying, “He did some evil stuff”? Everyone has a bad week, right? Why air his dirty laundry like that?
It’s almost as if vulnerability plays some role in experiencing and dwelling with God.
I understand the power of vulnerability through my children. They don’t pretend they can do it all. They don’t need to protect or project an image. They’re hopelessly dependent on others, me and Tiffani, in particular.
As we grow up, life makes us believe we can do it all, that we’re immune to weakness. The rise of social media certainly hasn’t helped us. Nonetheless, I have to wonder if children are so naturally joyful and optimistic because they’re aware of their weaknesses. Watching children, you might conclude vulnerability is a necessary trait for anyone who wants to experience heaven.
Children have a single-minded focus.
Whether we’re jumping on the trampoline or commuting to school, my children are focused on the present moment. They unapologetically give their time and energy to the present moment. They don’t live in the past, and therefore don’t drag shame into the present moment. They’re not worried or anxious about tomorrow. They’re just here.
Granted, the list of potential stressors and demands of life are infinitely longer than that of children (#adulting), but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Instead, let’s embrace the ideal in play , a single-minded focus on the present moment. Let’s stop worrying about tomorrow because, as Jesus says, God will give you everything you need. Let’s stop allowing years-old mistakes to influence our present circumstances.
Forgive (yourself) and let go of the past. Trust and let go of the future. Then give your time and energy to the present moment.
Children aren’t shackled by comparison.
Just the other day, one of my boys ran up to me, and excitedly asked me to come see what he built. I walked into his room to find seven legos stacked on top of one another. That’s it. They weren’t even the same size or color.
I put on my parent face, though, and told my son I was proud of him.
But can I be honest? That’s not what I thought. In my head, I said, “I can’t believe he’s proud of that. It’s nothing more than legos stacked on top of one another. What’s the big deal?”
This contrast in attitudes between myself and my son reveals how perfectionism erodes heavenly virtues like joy and peace and contentment.
Since I know her so well, let me tell ya a thing or two about perfectionism.
Perfectionism dangles contentment in front of you, promising to give you a taste. Instead, when you reach for contentment, perfectionism yanks it just inches higher than your outstretched hand, saying, “Oh, I see a mistake, an imperfection right there. You see it? You can do better. They can do better. All I ask is that you do it perfectly. Then contentment is yours.”
Perfectionism can’t accept good enough because it filters everything through some ridiculously high, unreachable standard. And it drives you (and everyone around you) to reach for this standard, knowingly good and well it’s unattainable.
Perfectionism basically says you shouldn’t create anything if it’s not the best and you shouldn’t rest until everything and everyone is without blemish, as if God cares about such a thing. He doesn’t.
Just watch children, who effortlessly create without regard to any standard. And when they’re finished, they’re boiling over with excitement, anxious to show off their masterpiece. Children aren’t obsessively focused on fixing or changing people, either. They’re okay with others just as they are, for some strange reason.
Little children, you see, aren’t governed by perfectionism. They create stuff instinctively. They do their very best. And they assume others are doing the same.
Children see an abundant world, not one of lack.
Children dream big. Nothing is impossible for them. Every moment is new, fresh and exciting. Children are wowed by the most ordinary of things. My kids enjoy unwrapping their Christmas presents more than the actual gifts, for example. They find as much joy playing at the local park as they do spending a week at Disney World.
Somewhere along the way, most of us lose our wonder to life. Life becomes scripted and, to be honest, rather boring. We develop a sense of entitlement, believing life owes us certain things. We become possessive of the things we have (we worked hard for our stuff, after all). We stop expressing gratitude for simple things like intimate relationships or food and shelter. We hoard what we have because the world is fragile and people can’t be trusted.
I call this sleepwalking through life. Your days become a long road trip with a dysfunctional family where dad plays Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits, mom plays Suduko and asks annoying questions about your personal life, and you’re only prayer is that you make it your final destination without flipping your lid.
Then, we have those moments when we wake up. Maybe death takes a swing at us, narrowly missing or we fall in love with a future spouse or a newborn child. In these moments, our joy and wonder returns. We stop hoarding and start living with gratitude. Every moment is special and deserving of our full attention. You’ve been there, I’m sure.
Childlikeness is about making wonder and gratitude daily practices.
Childlikeness is about making wonder and gratitude daily practices. It’s about seeing an abundant world. Difficult as it may be, it’s essential to making heaven a present reality.
Children forgive without bitterness or resentment.
As a parent, I must maintain a culture of respect among our family, which means saying no and correcting certain behaviors. And at times my kids don’t appreciate this and become visibly upset with me.
But within minutes they move on, back to doing kid stuff. They don’t keep mental tallies every time I correct them. Children know nothing about bitterness and resentment. They don’t understand an “eye for eye,” retaliation system.
Can you imagine a world where revenge doesn’t exist? Can you imagine your life void of bitterness, where you unconditionally forgive?
Deep down, we know unconditional forgiveness is the right choice. But your ego quickly swoops in to give you a list of reasons to seek revenge or carry resentment.
Bitterness and resentment are two sure-fire ways to a miserable life. The inability to forgive and to let go will impact every area of your life, from your career to your health. We would be wise to take a cue from children. Forgiveness is the gateway to love and life, to hope and healing.
Growing little isn’t easy. We won’t get there by effort alone. We need God to work in and through us, to restore our hearts and minds.
We can live with peace and joy. We can love people for who they are. We can add something to the world. And we can experience heaven right now.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.