faith like a child
The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven - Matthew 18
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 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.
Growing up in the Church, I have heard this story of Jesus used many times to inspire Christians into living a life rooted in a childlike faith. I always thought it was a nice story, but I never understood the concept of childlike faith, until I began working with children. I used to think that this faith Jesus was calling us into was one of blind trust. A faith built without questions, and rooted in believing God’s word like a child trusts their mother; with unwavering certainty that anything they say is true because momma said so. When I was little I had a peculiar fear that our house would burn down in the middle of the night. Maybe it was because I heard the trucks from our neighborhood fire station under my window being summoned to every imaginable disaster all night long. No matter the origin, I would lay in my bed at night watching the fire alarm beep red and fall asleep counting the red flashes signifying that our house was, in fact, not burning to the ground. I would pile all my stuffed animals and valuable items at the foot of the bed in case of a fire so I could grab them and go. I still remember the moment I admitted my terror to my mom to which she responded, “Honey, please don’t be afraid. There is too much love in this house for something like that to happen here," before kissing me on the forehead and slipping out of my room for the night. Her words convinced me. Of course, there wouldn’t be a fire now because my mom said there wouldn’t be! I fell asleep confident that our house was safe, because my mom would make sure of it.
Looking back, there's no way my mom could one-womanly stop our house from catching fire. She was only human and she had fears too, but in my mind, she was a superhero. I was sure she had all the answers, and I never questioned her supermom powers. This was the faith that I believed Jesus was calling us to in Matthew chapter 18. A faith that doesn’t ask questions, never wonders about the difficult parts of believing, and unwaveringly trusts even in the face of doubt. I held this understanding until I started working with kids, and I realized their relationship with Jesus is a direct reflection of how they view their world.
After spending enough time with kids, they have demonstrated their superb talent in two particular fields of expertise:
1. Asking half a zillion questions
2. Loving (people, toys, Jesus, their dog, you name it they'll love it to death)
I think there should be some money in America’s budget to purchase and develop a small tropical island named Questionland. Questionland would be a quaint little place dominated by children who would rule the land asking millions of questions day and night and getting answers from the all-knowing AnswerMachine. Unfortunately for kindergarten teachers, nannies and moms everywhere, Questionland does not seem to be in the works, and kids have resorted to just asking the nearest adult whatever musing pops into their cute little brains at all waking hours. Kids love to ask questions. Questions about the weather, and when’s lunch, and Jesus, and Star Wars, and why is your hand bigger than mine, and when is mommy coming back? Kids ask big questions about love, and faith, and where people go when they die, and they ask small questions about my favorite ice cream flavor or if they can have another serving of grapes at snack.
After experiencing the brigade of questions that comes from spending time with tiny humans, I realized that if God wanted us to have faith like them, then its ok to ask questions. I am expected to wonder things about God and who he is. It’s ok to doubt him sometimes, and our prayers should reflect the questions on our hearts. Just like a child, we can ask God when his kingdom will come on earth, when the cancer will heal, when the fighting will stop, when will we ever stop feeling so lonely, or what his favorite ice cream flavor is. We can use our imagination to wonder about God, and dream up what he might have in store for us like little kids lying in bed on Christmas Eve: full of anticipation and excitement for what the morning will bring. Its ok to question our faith sometimes, as long as we still have love.
Which brings me to the second God given gift of the tiny humans: their hearts. Kids love. Hard. They aren’t afraid to love what they love, and they do so with such enthusiasm and passion. If we treated eachother with even half as much love as my kindergarten friend, Xavier, loves breakdancing, then the world would be a significantly better place. Kids teach me how to be brave with my faith and not worry about what other people may think of me. The clearest example of this I learned from a six-year-old, named Anna. Each morning, sweet Anna rides up to the church on her unicorn bike with her stuffed unicorn in the front basket and a unicorn helmet carefully clipped under her strawberry blonde hair. Anna isn’t worried about people staring at her and her unicorn gear as she pedals through the West Loop each morning, because she is too busy loving unicorns and living a life that reflects it. People who see Anna biking from a far might just chuckle at her adorable obsession, but once they catch a glimpse of her huge smile they realize the joy she gets from her lovely one-horned bike helmet, and they might consider buying one themselves just to try to get a fraction of the happiness that is drawn all over her face.
I want to love Jesus the way that Anna loves unicorns. I hope my life reflects my unashamed obsession with God and the love he has for all humanity. I want to exuberate contagious joy, the kind that people want in on. I don’t want to be afraid of the people who might judge me and my life from afar, because I know when they see me pedal a bit closer they'll realize that happiness on my face reflects the pure joy that comes from realizing God’s love for us. I want to be brave enough to discuss my faith with those who ask with the same passion that kids have when you ask them about Moana or Batman or the Lego movie: bright eyed and bubbling over with the need to share this awesomeness with anyone close enough to hear.
Each day spent with my campers, I learn from them a little more. They model the childlike faith that Jesus invites us into, and inspire me with their unwavering joy and trust in the goodness of the world. They are curious and imaginative, and are always hoping for the best. They remind me that faith is actually really simple, and we’re the ones who make it complicated, not God. Childlike faith is as simple as stretching out our sticky, flawed, human fingers and grabbing the outstretched hand of Jesus. Its ok that we don’t know where we are going and its acceptable to ask questions, because once we realize the love he has in store for us, our doubts won’t seem to matter anyway.