And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18: 3-4
I've read that verse a million times. I've heard it in sermons and stories more times than I could even count. But, until I began spending my days watching, listening to, loving on, and planning for children, I haven't given Christ's specific and shocking words any depth of consideration.
Honestly, most days, I'm convicted, because I did not appreciate and enjoy the preschool days of my own children enough. At Keswick, we have infants through 4-year-olds in the preschool department. Of course, I can't help but remember my own children at these ages. By the time Caleb was 4, we had two more babies in our home. Collin was 2, Claire was newly born, and I was a crazy person. Truly! It's hard to really enjoy the gifts God has given when you're completely consumed with making everyone think life is wonderful.When it feels like the most important things are keeping a clean house, creating perfect schedules for little people, and making everyone look like we do all of those things with complete ease, it's extremely difficult to rest and receive children as the gift they are.
So, when Jesus says that we are supposed to "come to Him as children," I can't really be sure what that looks like. I want to know, though, because I want to "enter the kingdom of heaven." Actually, I want to experience that on a daily basis. So, I've been thinking about His words and realizing that children (all children) do some pretty amazing things.
Children learn by making mistakes. In fact, they make mistakes pretty regularly and without apology. Rolling over, walking, talking, reading, making friends, and so much more aren't done beautifully during the preschool years. Attempts are made. Success isn't achieved in the first, second, fiftieth try. But, these precious children, don't quit. They keep going. Each day, they start again, attempting all of the things they failed at the day before. Then, at some point, it clicks, it works, and they experience success after multiple (hundreds of) failures.
Children express emotions freely. I began this year as an after-care worker in a one-year-old class. What a year! I had completely forgotten how much children change from one to two. As they change, though, so much emotion is involved. They're happy and joy-filled, sad and heart-sick, as well as frustrated and angry. It would never occur to a child to cover those emotions. Never! And, it would never occur to a reasonable adult to ask them to. Their emotions are necessary for their appropriate development.
Children seek the adventure. Always! I'm smiling as I write, because some children seek the less adventurous adventure. I was the cautious child, and I have two similar to me. Even the most cautious children, though, will push for a little more than they're actually ready for. If they easily sit, they're ready to stand. If they walk with ease, they'll begin to try running. And, when they've completely figured out the little ride-on toy, they want to make it a skate board instead. It's natural, and it's how they progress. If children were completely satisfied with their level of living at any stage, adulthood would never be an option. The adventure is what pushes them into the next stage.
Children quickly return for help when they've made a mistake, gotten hurt, or don't know what else to do. And, that's our favorite part of care-giving, right? As the adults, we live for those moments of clinging hugs. It doesn't matter how many times we've told them not to do whatever has ultimately caused them pain, we, as the parent, never tire of loving our children when pain and discomfort has led them back to us for compassion.
So, my question today is, "When does this kind of childish behavior become unacceptable?"
Fortunately, I've also had the great pleasure of raising two middle school boys this year. "Great pleasure" is a bit of a stretch. But, honestly, the conviction of watching preschoolers each day and knowing that I missed much of the beauty of that stage when mine were younger birthed a determination in me to enjoy these middle school years even if I had to search high and low for something (anything) enjoyable.
What I found has been a little alarming. See, I believe the difficulty of the middle school years is the fact that our young children begin fighting the urge to come to Christ as children. Maybe we, their adult and believing parents, begin demanding less childlike behavior. But, what if that's not actually God's intended way? What if we're stunting the spiritual growth of our children by encouraging them to skip steps in the process of spiritual maturity.
I don't have any answers! I'm only finally verbalizing the many questions I've had during the past year. In this one, single year of middle school, I believe my boys have done many things well. But, I've seen them make poor choices, focus on the wrong things, and hurt themselves and others in the process of it all. After countless prayers for discernment, I believe God has shown me clearly that IF they're going to love Him like I want them to love Him, failure will be part of the process.
So, I have a choice. I can insist that they DO exactly what I've taught them is right simply because I said it was right. (By the way, I only have one child that I could even hope would live this way, and she hasn't hit middle school yet.) OR, I can expect the mess ups and encourage them to find the lesson in the living. That path will be the messier path. It will be more filled with bruises, hurts, and emotion. But, isn't that the picture of a child?
Will my children ever look fully to their Heavenly Father in sincerity and truth without failing miserably in order to learn that His life is just better?
And, when that happens, isn't failure the victory?
Life really is an adventure. In fact, it's the kind of adventure that should never grow old. There are mistakes to be made (we failed our way to walking and every other necessary life lesson). Those mistakes will most likely lead to some emotions that shouldn't be hidden. And, all of it should bring about a humility that leads us to our sovereign, Heavenly Father.
The messes don't seem so gigantic when I know the One who can clean them up.
And, I'm not afraid of failure when I trust the One who has already won.
I'm so grateful that our first year of middle school hasn't been easy. There are a number of lessons we would have missed if that path had been simple. I've asked the Lord to give my children a genuine love for Him and His ways. And, I've discovered that true and genuine desire for the Lord comes through trial and error. If I want them to have a real relationship with God, I've got to allow them to have real encounters with Him.... even if (especially if) they're a little child-like.
I ask -- ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory -- to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him -- endless energy, boundless strength!
Ephesians 1: 17-19, Message Version