A couple years ago, our oldest child drew a picture that is on the front cover of the leaflet. The original hangs in my office. She did this drawing at church one day. After she had finished she took great delight in showing me her creation and what it meant to her. Her explanation was simple and pure, “it is about God.” I promise you that neither myself or my wife have ever sat down and talked about the intricate details of the Trinity to our children. Talk about God, for sure. Talk about Jesus, absolutely. Talk about what it means to be a good person and helping others, definitely.
Because I am a man of a certain age and vintage, I took a picture of her drawing and immediately posted it on Facebook to show the world just how clever and theologically grounded my daughter is. It wasn’t until another colleague of mine, a priest now living and working in Ontario pointed out that the drawing of “Jesus” is wearing a deacon’s stole. I took another look and sure enough, Jesus, the middle figure, is wearing a deacon’s stole. Again I have had many conversations with my children about all kinds of things, but due to my own shortcomings, the role and ministry of the deacon has not been one of them - yet. But some how, some way, through our conversations, interactions with others, coming to church for sure, she has picked up enough to be able to articulate aspects of her faith through drawing.
Now I know that I am ‘Dad’ and I know that my children are perfect in every way and can do no wrong, the same is true for all children. What I have learned is that children have a faith and a spirituality that is deep and complex. Their theology is broad and often they interpret complex issues in a way that makes sense without the added complications and overthinking that us adults so often can run into. They have questions and wonder about the stories of the Bible in the same way you or I do. Their questions are real and matter greatly to them and therefore should matter to us as well. Their imaginations take them on journeys about the mystery of the Divine in ways I still have to learn. It therefore should come as no surprise to us that Jesus uses children a lot to talk about heaven and the Kingdom of God.
Children see things differently from adults. They have a remarkable ability to know if we are being honest and genuine with them or not. No matter how hard we try to mask our feelings or put up ‘a front,’ children can see straight through us and know when we are ‘hiding something.’ Children instinctively know who is safe and who is not. Impressively children approach life with such innocence and assume the best from people.
This is a challenge for adults more often than not. What happened to us? It seems the moment we grow and develop into our adult selves we lose our innocence. Through painful experiences we have been burned and hurt enough times that we approach people and life with a wall of defences. It is sad, but all too often true, that people who we meet on any given day may not necessarily have our interests, or the communities interest at heart. We assume that people have their own hidden agendas and are willing ‘to play nice’ for as long as it is in their best interests. This is of course a generalization and we must always be careful when generalizing. But there is still some truth in this. We live in a world that teaches us to put ourselves, our own needs first, and ask questions second.
Therefore it is no accident that Jesus says we need to become like children. Therefore it is no accident Jesus says today, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mark 9: 37). Children see things we adults don’t. They can see, more clearly, the way things really are, without mask or filter. They approach life with complete intrigue, trust and imagination.
What Jesus says to us today is that we need to become like children. We need to reclaim our nativity and innocents. We need to become vulnerable and trusting in the same way children so often are before God. We need to lay down our defences and walls - emotional or other and allow the Holy Spirit to breathe in and through us. How do we reclaim the child within us? Because you know, we were all children once before. How do we begin to see what children see? As innocent as they are, as naive as they can be; children have an insight into the Divine and a wisdom that can be unmatched.