It was an uneventful Saturday afternoon, and I was lounging on a hard wooden chair with my cousin in her dining room. One of her young sons was creating fences on his plate with his vegetables while his little brother, after descending the peak of his high chair with help from his mom, ran to a nearby room to destroy his favorite puzzle. During a rare quiet moment, my cousin stretched down for the diaper bag with a sudden smile. “Westin, guess what I found today?” She reached in the bag like a magician garnering attention for the big trick, and pulled out a tiny plastic cow. Westin sat frozen, his fork in midair. An incredulous grin spread across his face, and he jumped out of his chair, laughing gleefully and forgetting his tiny food fortress. He snatched the cow and held it high like a winning lottery ticket. “YES! Look at this, Bennett!” He rushed to his brother, who babbled nonsensical shouts of glee at the sight of their long-lost toy. If only I could see the world through their eyes, I thought to myself. I waited there with a smile, unimpressed but amused at their show of untempered joy for such a silly little discovery.
In Matthew 11, right after he denounces the towns that refused to believe his message of salvation, Jesus prays, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do” (Matt. 11:25-26, NIV).
This isn’t the only instance Christ insists that children know something the rest of us forgot when we traded our homemade pasta jewelry for neckties. In Matthew 19, Jesus counters his disciples’ assumptions with an invitation: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14, NIV).
Based on Jesus’ words, we can make two claims: God reveals truth to children, and they belong in the kingdom of heaven. A question persists: why does he choose children?
We have all seen toddlers crumble under the slightest alteration in their lives. Susie doesn’t get that extra cookie, and all of a sudden, tears and kicks and sobs transform her soft, grinning face into the snarl of a ravaging beast. This very contrast–between the filtered version of ourselves and the wildness of our emotions–is one we learn to censor as we grow. Yet, could this honest, visceral frustration teach us, adults, something about ourselves and God?
Notice the times that Jesus rebukes and outsmarts the Pharisees in the Gospels. They refuse to see Jesus for who he is: the Son of God. Instead, they name him a fraud whose goal is the abolishment of their laws; those who see the world through a black-and-white lens can’t cope with so many hues of gray. In contrast, Christ is surprisingly merciful and loving to prostitutes and those struggling with “bodily” sin. I wonder if he saw their sexual sin as nearer to penitence than the prideful hearts of the Pharisees. In the same way, although children may be selfish and unyielding at times, they demonstrate the very human crux between control and disarray that we Pharisees try so hard to mask for the sake of following the rules and looking good doing it.
Further, as I spend time with children, I realize that they see the world with greater clarity than I, in my blindness of experience. I have pleaded with the Child of God, “Give me childlike faith,” but I wonder if I’m too far jaded to receive what I seek. In the trenches of academia, I fear my faith has become so “educatedly” sedated that my heart sleeps in response to the joy of the Gospel. I sit with a knowing grin rather than jump at the sight of the found toy, because I believe that a plastic cow doesn’t warrant a celebration. Perhaps I have forgotten that there is nothing greater than finding yourself found.
May we all seek childlike faith and, by the grace of God, leap for joy at the unwarranted grace and gaiety of it all.