As I read your word today, Lord, give me eyes to see, a mind to understand, and a heart to believe. Teach me your ways, that I may walk in them.
Today’s passage is Mark 10:13-16:
And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
(Mark 10:13-16 ESV)
A few years ago, my friend, Mary, invited me to come and visit her preschool class. Mary teaches four-year-olds, and has for many years. When I had a chance to speak with her students, I asked the class of twenty or so kids, “How many of you are artists?” All twenty sets of hands flew into the air. They had not yet been taught that their pictures were not as good as they thought they were, or that some people are more “gifted” than others. They knew that they painted and drew in her class, so they must be artists!
Another time, I was a guest speaker at retreat—for artists. Everyone who went on that retreat went because they either painted or drew or wrote or in some other way practiced a creative art. Yet when I asked the same question, only about half of them raised their hands. Something had made them afraid to claim the word “artist” for themselves. Their internal censors were strong. Who are you to call yourself an artist?
There are so many things that children seem to start out with in life and then lose with “maturity.” Sometimes I feel like children mature themselves right out of freedom. I remember my nephews at four and five years old, when I stayed with them in England while their parents took a trip. They were so vibrant and unconscious of “self.” They laughed, ran, played, made up stories, drew pictures and waited for my praise, expecting it. But as they’ve gotten older, I see a bit more of a self-consciousness has grown. A shyness, a self-awareness that makes them a little bit more shy, a little bit embarrassed sometimes.
There is a little girl at my church who is four. She loves to spin. And when she is spinning, she loves to have an audience. Often, she’ll run up to me and say, “Watch this!” Then she’ll spin and I’ll praise her. It’s something we do most weeks. And when I bend down and stretch out my arms to her with a big smile on my face, she runs and gives me a hug. There is no sense of insecurity or wondering whether she should or not. She runs.
I don’t know why the disciples rebuked people for bringing children to Jesus. Perhaps they were feeling what I have felt at times when I have been at a concert or other event that was not meant for children and their giggles, whispers, or cries have been disruptive. Perhaps they, themselves, simply didn’t like kids. But whatever the case, Jesus showed yet another aspect of his beautiful heart when he corrected them. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
“To such?” What does this mean? The kingdom of God belongs to children? Or to anyone—adult or child—who is like a child in some way?
What Jesus says next speaks volumes about what we are to aim for: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” What did he mean by that? How does a child receive the kingdom of God?
There are a few things that come to mind. I think of a child who has a good, healthy relationship with her parents. She trusts them. She knows that when she is hungry, they’ll feed her. When she is cold, they’ll get her an extra blanket. She knows that they will give her gifts on her birthday and Christmas and other times, too. She knows that they love her—she never doubts that! And when they say they’ll do something, she knows they will.
But she also embraces surprises and joy when they offer it. I remember my dad coming home from a business trip and saying he had a surprise for me. Without knowing what it was, I was elated! My dad brought me a surprise! I already knew it must be great! (It was back in the days when you flew and the flight attendant would give you a pin with wings.) When he gave me that pin, the very fact that it was a gift gave me joy.
Another thing I’ve noticed about a lot of kids is that they have often a very clear sense of right and wrong. It takes years of maturity to learn to finagle the truth. Even when kids break rules, they know they’re doing something wrong. Yet somewhere along the way, we lose that conscience. Right and wrong becomes a matter of personal opinion.
Kids are also often eager to help when they encounter a need. I have seen this over and over: kids love to help (if it’s not a chore!) From feeding the homeless to being teacher’s helper to helping a younger sibling, if a child sees a need and knows that he can meet it, he very often does. At least in my experience.
Of course, not all children are like what I’ve described. We are all products of both nature and nurture, and for various reasons, every child is unique. But when I look at this passage, hoping to learn something for my life, this is what comes to mind: a little girl spinning. A child eager for the surprise. A little boy who loves to be mommy’s helper.
Now let me ask about how we approach God, our heavenly father. Do we trust him? Do we know that when we’re hungry, he’ll feed us? When we’re cold, or need anything, that he’ll supply it? Do we know that he loves us and that when he says he’ll do something, he will? Do we embrace God’s gifts with joy? And when we see a need around us, are we eager to lend a hand?
Are you around kids much? It’s tempting to miss the lessons they have to teach us. Yet Jesus‚ on more than one occasion, pointed to children to teach his disciples. What is something children might teach us about how we are to approach the kingdom of God?