So, I thought I would break from my traditional blog genre and share that chapter that I have written in the next two posts. I pray it would be meaningful to you and that you would be gentle with it, as it is difficult to share publicly something that was written so personally. But I digress...
“Remember, you did not choose me; I chose you.”
–Jesus of Nazareth
I continue to be fascinated by Jesus’s exhortation to have faith like a child. There is something about the nature of a child’s understanding of his or her world that Jesus finds exemplary. It’s hard for me, if I’m honest, to actually consider a child being an example of faith. At best, I have thought of this lesson as cute — but certainly not packed with precious depth.
And yet, I guess I’ve interacted with enough of Jesus’s teachings to know better. As a Jewish rabbi teaching his disciples valuable and important lessons, I know that if a rabbi such as Jesus takes the time to set up a scenario and then uses it as a picture of spiritual formation, the listeners had better take note. Visible lessons from the rabbi are never intended to be empty — or easy, for that matter.
In short, I need to stop treating that lesson as trivial or something that belongs on the flannel graph.
Part of my experience as a father, as I continue to make valuable observations, has been to notice how much profound depth there is to this very lesson. As the story goes in one gospel, Jesus gathers the children around him. How long does this gathering and discussion take place? We are not told. I have always assumed that Jesus takes about twenty seconds to gather some kids up, looks at his disciples and other listeners and says, “Unless you have faith like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom.” Then, I have always imagined him ushering the children away, so that he could proceed with his much more important, significant, and profound rabbinical teachings for the day.
But after watching children at great length, I have begun to question my chronological assumptions. Perhaps this wasn’t merely a two-minute lesson that day; perhaps it didn’t resemble the silly “children’s sermon” the pastor gives before the “real” message. Perhaps this teaching was much more profound than I realized. Let me just suggest another possible scenario.
Imagine Jesus and the disciples arose that morning, went about their typical duties, gathered in the synagogue for morning readings, and left for the day’s adventures. I picture maybe Matthew asking the question, “Rabbi, who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
I picture Jesus pausing, silently gazing off into the nearby village and, without a word, marching off in the direction of the houses. Jesus arrives on the outskirts of the village and sees a whole host of children, ten or fifteen of them, playing in a courtyard. He leads his disciples into the courtyard with the honored parents watching and welcoming him and his disciples, gracious to have such esteemed guests.
The disciples, of course, are watching, paying attention to Jesus’s every move as he scoops up a child and begins to playfully interact with the children. As a disciple, of course, your main duty is to mimic every move of your rabbi and so you begin to engage the children in horseplay, as well. I imagine Jesus and his disciples spending the day with the children — telling stories, playing games, maybe even taking naps.
As the day begins to come to a close, the family insists you stay for dinner. As you begin to recline in the shade of a nearby tree, Jesus speaks some of the first and only words he’s spoken to you all day.
“Watch the children.”
You watch and you recline and you eat. As the sun begins to set in the sky, Jesus calls one of the children over by name. He takes him and pulls him close under his arm and he looks around at all of his disciples, making eye contact with all of them.
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I have discovered there are great lessons to be learned from watching children.
THE STRENGTH OF A LITTLE GIRL
Not too long ago, Mom was at work and it was a nice day outside for a blustery winter in Idaho. It was just dad and daughter, so I took her to a local park. In a rare moment for this control-freak of a father, I decided I just wanted to let my daughter be. I wasn’t going to assume that toys or swings were what her entertainment of choice would be. I would watch her and keep her out of trouble, but I had this desire to see what she would do if she was left to be the captain of her own ship.
She had just learned to walk.
The whole experience of learning to walk was an incredible thing to behold as a parent. There are certain milestones you wait for in a newborn’s life — the first time she rolls over, the first crawl, the first tooth — but there is nothing that compares to the ability of walking.
There’s the sheer panic the parent feels when their kid isn’t walking as soon as their friends’ kid is. You begin to question whether or not your child is going to be okay just a few weeks after “all the other children are walking.” It’s an interesting thing, really. You don’t obsess over teeth or weight like you do for walking.
And I can remember the joy of seeing my child learn to crawl or mutter her first words. But nothing compares to the pure thrill of those first five or six steps. It’s an incredible high — a rush of adrenaline and cheering with the look of bliss and joy covering your child’s face. It’s a look that says they are having the ride of their life on their own two legs for the first time. It’s a look that says she is so happy to be the joy of her parents. It’s a great look.
But anyway, back to the park. She had just learned how to walk and walking was, as they say, the cat’s meow. She was on top of the world just walking around in the grass. I was here only to watch, enjoy, and keep her from disappearing into a sprinkler hole.
At one point in our afternoon she had walked off to the side of the park and down a very slight slope. I say “slight” from the perspective of someone who stands at 6’4’’, not as a one-year-old. I was actually quite impressed she had not fallen face-first on the way down the slope. Now, however, she had turned around and decided she was ready to make her ascent back up the hill.
What I witnessed next was simple.
But what I witnessed next I will never forget as long as I live.
This upward slope was a brand new experience for her; she had never encountered the physics of walking uphill. She attempted to take a step and immediately fell backward. The green grass was nice and long from a whole fall and winter season of no lawn mowers. She was unhurt. There was no need for Dad to step in. He could continue to observe.
She got back up (which is not an easy process for a one-year-old just learning to walk in the grass). She attempted to take a step…
She got up. She attempted to take a step.
She got up. She fell.
I expected to hear a cry or a whimper, but one never came. I expected to hear her whine and stretch out her hand to Dad for assistance. But she was just fine.
And she got up, she tried again, and she fell.
Without exaggerating, I can honestly say this process repeated itself a good twenty times before anything changed. Each and every time, she got up, she stepped, she fell. Every now and again, she would giggle.
At this point, she had begun to make some adjustments based on her newfound data in this one-year-old physics laboratory of sorts. She shifted her weight differently. She took her time. She placed her feet differently in relation to her body and the slope. She placed her feet, took a step, and took another step. She had remained upright.
She screamed a happy little girly scream.
She took another step — and fell.
** This post will be continued in the next post this week.