“Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Our paradox-loving God has given us another paradox to ponder. We typically assume that more developed is synonymous with better, but here our God tells us we must move backwards in our development to a more immature state. It seems that as we progress spiritually, our relationship with God passes human milestones in reverse. This is can be hard to understand. Fortunately, as parents, we have our own children around to look toward to learn what this means.
When children enter the world, everything is provided for them in the comfort of the womb; their only job is to kick back, accept nourishment, and let the growth happen. Not much changes once they are born. Their job now involves a bit more seeking than the last as they root for a breast to nurse from or a bottle to drink from. Sometimes their job is to communicate their need, but in most cases, food, love, and warmth are merely an arms-length away. Everything is about attachment and acceptance of care.
As they get older, they test their boundaries, learn new skills, and form additional relationships. They get jobs, start businesses and families, and pay bills. When they’re out meeting new people, they introduce themselves by their profession and are marked by their accomplishments. They’re no longer so-and-so's kid; they’re now Mr. or Ms. Adult.
As adults, we forget the knowing and the loving of God and jump straight to the serving. We join ministries, we schedule our prayers; we keep busy. Our prayer is marked by toil and activity, and our success is measured by accomplishment. “Today I said my rosary, offered prayers for the dead, and wrote a check to the church.”
This is a necessary element of spirituality, and we don’t wish to denigrate adulthood. Faith without works is dead, and we are definitely called to serve God. But what God gave us through Baptism is much deeper than accomplishing a checklist of prayers and activities. We know this because when we encounter holy people, we don’t see the hustle. We see a formidable peace and simplicity.
Becoming like a child means “regressing” to a state where we our spiritual life is marked less by toil and more by peaceful attachment and association with the Father. It’s to spend more time luxuriating and delighting in his love. To reach this state is ultimately a pure gift from God, but we can dispose ourselves to it by spending time with our children, observing their relationship Him, and being open to being led “backward” by the Holy Spirit.
While writing Ten Minutes With Jesus and testing each activity in our own family, we noticed what a gift it is to have a front-row seat to God’s work in our children. We have effective teachers right here at our kitchen table if we only have eyes to see.