“Jesus said,‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14)
A few days ago, my wife and I sat next to a fountain for a time, letting the sound and appearance of the waters calm us. Two women and two children, a boy and a girl were also there, being soothed as well. The boy was older and he splashed through the different nozzles that forced the waters into the air, whereas the younger girl cautiously tiptoed around the edges of the water. She glanced up at me a couple of times while we were sitting on a nearby bench, and I noticed her face, which helps me to understand our verse for today. The only way I can explain it is this: Her face contained beautiful innocence, a cautious hope that all will be well, and the potential for faith. If she was prayerfully and gently told about the Lord, something in her face registered that she would believe. I pray that she can retain that innocence and place her trust in the Lord.
Children do have something that the rest of us have lost. That must be true or the Lord would not have said what He did about them: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He also said in Matthew 18:3, that, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” What have we lost and need to find in order to become right with God? I don’t think any one of us completely understands life, but the answer is in the face of that little girl. We must become willing to trust and then place our faith in the Lord.
I taught in convalescent homes for a number of years, five in one and then ten years in another. The average age of those in my Bible classes was typically over eighty. They were wonderful people. I talked with many of the residents on numerous occasions, learning about interesting, productive lives that were now concluding, and later was privileged to perform memorial services for a number of them. Pilots, doctors, priests, pianists, parents, veterans—every kind of life you could imagine. They were men and women who had been little, like the boy and girl at that fountain playing imaginary games, but then grew up and the games became realities that took wonderful varieties in shapes and forms.
Little ones become larger, faster, stronger, and get the training, the education that life offers. A sense of identity emerges, along with labels like teacher, doctor, plumber, artist or whatever, and symbols like a badge, paintbrush, shovel, home ownership or whatever can seem to define who we are. We are the son or daughter of somebody, the parent of others and the descendant of those we found in records on the computer. When we were little, we pretended to be somebody we saw in the movies or took the titles of our parents and pretended to be grown up like them, and then the labels took real form.
Failures also abound in our lives. Our tendency is to be somewhat open about successes and brush our fiascoes under the rug, increasingly pretending to be something we’re not, even fooling ourselves in the process. Failed marriages are “their fault.” Job losses are from market reverses—not something we did. Part of our identity is found in our relationships: Our family, job, status, home, appearance and income are thought to define who we are, and the death of a key loved one may unexpectedly be devastating. Yes we did love them, but also, it is the loss of our identity in relation to them.
I don’t move as well as I once did. A 23-hour visit to an Emergency Room a couple of weeks ago, resulted in not only a change in medication, but also the label “fall risk” was applied to me, and I was told to use a cane for the rest of my life. Hmmm…a cane! That’s not who I am, but yes, apparently it is, and I look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is this older person staring back at me?”
Isn’t it amazing? We grew larger and larger, with our height perhaps being periodically measured by a parent marking a line on a doorframe. We gained in language skills, absorbed information, if not in school, then certainly in life—some specialty of work became ours. We become known as an expert in something or other. Symbols emerged that seemed to define us. But then, slowly at first, everything about us began to transform in ways never expected.
Instead of getting taller, we start to shrink, imperceptibly at first, but then more, as gravity, bone loss and the ravages of life converge to turn us into one of the seven dwarfs. Our work, our career, or perhaps a series of unfortunate job choices has left us “retired” if things went pretty well, or possibly homeless at the other end of the spectrum. Mental abilities begin to decrease. Strength lessens; aches become a way of life, all to a point where it’s difficult anymore to deny our deficiencies.
What is going on? And the answer is found in Scripture. Paul the Apostle touched on the dilemma of lessened abilities in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Something happened to him that he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh.” He prayed fervently three times that “it might depart” from him, as most would. The Lord’s answer was: incredibly—"No"—telling Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” A surprised Paul concluded, “I take pleasure in infirmities…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Does it remind you of the aging process? It does to me. God created aging and we are like pioneers, each one taking a unique journey into an unknown future on a path designed by Him. Our situations may differ somewhat, but it is God who tenderly is leading us through.
Are we to deliberately seek weakness? The answer is—no. We don’t make the rules or the decisions, we simply follow Him who created us, causes us to grow and mature, and then allows a process of weakening that will reveal our need. Our weakness reveals the necessity of His strength in our lives. A smaller, less capable you is a choice made by Almighty God, forcing you to reach out and discover that He is reaching out as well. Your loss of identity is a way to find Him. The symbols of success you thought important were His, not yours. Loved ones will begin to leave this life at appointed times, and the losses are meant to be “Danger, Bridge Out Ahead” signs that show us we need the Lord.
Children pretend to be grownups. What is less understood is that grownups are pretending, too. Maturity is a mask we wear, fooling even ourselves, though we are less successful in pulling the wool over the eyes of those around us. They often see our immaturity better than we do, and God certainly sees right into the center of our being. In our “declining years,” the mask of maturity slips, something you can view in any senior residential facility. Mature adults become like children once more, and the reality is that when Jesus said we are to “become like children,” He was really telling us to stop pretending and be what we really always were and are—God’s little children, desperately in need of our loving Heavenly Father. Let’s trust in Him.
Father, we have pretended to be something we are not. I am in need of You. I accept my weakness and ask for You, my Strength, to fill me. I trust in You, Lord. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.