“But Jesus called the infants to him and said, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me! Children like these are part of the kingdom of God. I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.”
Luke 18:16-17 (God’s Word Translation)
What is the thing about having and raising kids? Comedic actor Ed Asner once summarized raising kids as, “part joy and part guerrilla warfare.” Whether warming our hearts or getting on our last nerve, kids are with us. They can bring us incredible joy and also make us incredibly frustrated. They delight and disappoint in equal measure. They love to take everything out of its place and put none of it away. They can cry in one breath and literally laugh the next. They are constantly curious about body parts and especially fond of bodily functions. They love to use their sleeves to clean up everything, especially snot, food, and paint. They love to make colored marks on everything, especially walls, coffee tables, your bedspread, themselves, and their nice pair of Sunday church khakis. And with a whimper and a soft “I love you, Daddy,” they get away with almost anything. I mean, when was the last time you had someone pee on your back while you were sleeping and you responded by hugging him when he started to cry about it?
Here’s a little summary of a fairly ‘typical’ Sunday morning in my life of having a young son. I wake up to the annoying sensation of a little finger incessantly tickling a three-inch patch of skin on my arm over and over and over again. I look over to discover that my 41⁄2 year old has sprawled himself precariously between my wife and I in our own bed. Then, as I try to sneak out of the covers like a ninja, he reaches for my neck and holds me hostage for another ten to fifteen minutes until he fully wakes up. First words out of his mouth: “Blue pancakes.” No good morning. No hello. Just a simple imperative that he fully expects me to execute. At the breakfast table, when presented with the steamy plate of blue deliciousness covered in melted butter and sweet syrup, he cries about having wanted green pancakes instead. After calming him down through my hostage-negotiation-like-skills (or rather by my sheer parental will), he decides that he “loves them.” Mid-meal he always has to go to the bathroom and spends an extraordinarily long amount of time doing his business, letting his breakfast get colder and soggier. But now we’re running out of time from breakfast table festivities and need to get dressed, which is an adventure itself into the unknown as my son rejects the tradition of wearing matching clothes (or even the wearing of clothes). Trying to get him and his sister out the door and on our way is like trying to herd cats hyped up on Red Bull. He’s wanting to play with this monster truck or that ninja turtle and then he wants her toy doll and she’s crying because he took her toy doll and then she hits him and he cries and says she hit him and then his shoes come off again and then he forgets to bring that one toy along and then I forget what I was supposed to bring because I’m already ten minutes late to church.
I can imagine the place children occupied in the culture of Jesus’ day just like today. Kids are fun and all, but in all seriousness they have their own place. And that place is in the home or school or on the playground. It’s out of the spotlight largely. And when they’re in the spotlight, it’s for that cute, awkward, little dance number or that off-kilter, atonal song sung in the choir. We record the event for posterity but don’t give it much credence or credibility. It speaks of their potential, perhaps, but there’s not a lot of inherent value in its expression for its own sake.
Jesus’ followers stand at attention, trying to restrict or allow access to the throngs of people vying for Jesus’ time, attention, and touch. He talks to people and engages with them. He sees people for who they really are. He heals people from disease and even casts out the occasional demon. Jesus is like the hottest nightclub in town and his disciples are the bouncers outside, looking for only the A-listers to allow entrance to the party. Even parents are trying to get their kids in on the action, but get dissed at the door. “Sorry,
kids, you’re not old enough to come inside. Even if you have your chaperone with you, we still don’t see your name on the V.I.P. list. Sorry, but you’re not getting in. Now step aside, please.”
They just got bounced, but Jesus calls out to the children and invites them to come near. Not only are they V.I.P. but they’re royalty as well. The kingdom belongs to them. These little majesties and highnesses possess a quality that Jesus says positions them to receive the kingdom of God.
Record scratch! Music fades. Dancing stops. Lights come on. Fog clears. Heads turn. Eyes squint.
“Huh? What’d you say? Come again, Jesus? Did you just say these little children are the real V.I.P.’s up in this mug?”
But there’s something so significant and pure about the expression of a child. It’s unfiltered. It’s raw. It’s without pretense. It’s honest and wide open. It sees all the possibilities and embraces every one of them. It gives itself fully to whatever it is experiencing in the now. It easily forgets the past, along with the hurts. It loves to the max, hates to the max, cries to the max, and expresses itself to the max. It has not been conditioned by society to behave or act a certain way. That’s why I believe Jesus embraces them and wants to give them special status.
“Give these kids access to me and watch them closely because they’re going to show you how to approach me and my Father. They are more in tune with truth than you know, and from the confession of their own mouth I am perfecting a sound of praise.”
Now, when I look at my son dancing around the living room in his underwear and smacking his butt like it’s a drum, I’ll smile to myself and imagine the joy God derives from such innocent and delightful expression. He takes it as praise seeing one of his precious children celebrating the life they’ve been given. I’ll say to myself, “May my heart towards you be as this child, God. May I delight in you and this new life you’ve given me. May I live unfettered from expectations that the world tries to place on me. May I not forget what it is to be free to express myself from within the totality of my being before you. May I not hold back but fully embrace the kingdom you desire to give me. May I take advantage of the all-access pass I’ve been given to your heavenly dance club, to come before your presence with riotous thanksgiving and raucous joy!”