Yep, you read it right. There are too many “old” people in this country. I don’t mean chronologically, but emotionally—old attitudes, old prejudices, and people who have forgotten how to have fun. It’s easy to lose your sense of wonder and to take yourself too seriously. Then you worry about everything, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Jesus put it this way: “You must become as little children to enter the Kingdom of God.” The Disciples had been arguing about who is the greatest in the Kingdom, and Jesus took the hand of a child and said, “Unless you humble yourself as this child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Children are not always little angels. They can be noisy, selfish and demanding. Turn them loose, and they can be a wrecking crew! But there are certain characteristics that make them special. There is usually a lack of phoniness in kids. They tend to be open and honest, with no hidden agendas.
I was visiting a family one day who had been absent from church lately. As we sat in the living room, the mother said, “We go to my hometown in Arkansas just about every weekend, and we go to church there.” Her 6- or 7-year-old son said, “Mama, we don’t go to church there.” I change the subject. I don’t badger people about attending worship services, anyway. Blessed are those who are honest; who tell it like it is.
Kids have fun and it seems to come naturally. They tend to enjoy life. They don’t waste time with “waiting” for things to change. If it rains, they play in it. If it’s hot, they turn on the water hose. A child doesn’t feel guilty until we teach them how. They don’t know how to worry until they learn it from adults. A child can laugh at the least thing, and can have a ball with the most unlikely toys. There is a spontaneous joy in kids that’s contagious. The late Roscoe Bolton is a prime example here. During his funeral, one of his grandsons referred to “Bebop” as one who loved to dance, eat good food, laugh and so on. Roscoe, though 99, had a young heart. The “kid” in him was alive and well.
I have it on the authority of Dr. Chris Thacker, who pointed out in a sermon recently, that faith and fun are considered the “odd” couple. Faith doesn’t know what to do with fun. We say, “Christians can have fun, too,” and we say it almost apologetically, as if it’s the exception to the rule for Christians to have a good time.
Jesus also used the word “humility” in reference to children. Humility is a rare virtue in our society. We admire those who are aggressive, assertive and those who are go-getters. When Pope Pius IX was elected pope, he became arrogant, pompous and impressed with his own importance. Shortly after the election, he allowed his mother to come and see him. He held up his ring and said, “With this ring, I will rule the world.” His mother smiled, held up her wedding ring and replied, “Without this ring, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
Humility is not being a doormat. It is not bowing down to evil just to keep peace. It is putting yourself in the other person’s place and being sensitive to his or her needs. It is recognizing the needs of others. Jesus didn’t talk about humility. He lived it. One day, he laid aside his garments, took a towel and water, and began washing the feet of his disciples.
It seems that most people live “outside” themselves. Our society is “outer-directed”, as we are caught up in busyness, a thirst for possessions, speed, conquest and instant gratification. We live on the outside of the spiritual self. Therefore, we can become spiritually bankrupt. A child is “inner directed”, and speaks from the heart. So, we need to celebrate the “child” that is within each of us. As Paul Tillich once said, “The nature of salvation is the nature of a child.”
I close with the words of Michael Quoist, who has included the following in his book on prayer:
“God says I like youngsters; I want people to be like them. I don’t like old people unless they are still children. I only want children in my kingdom. Youngsters who are twisted, humped, wrinkled and white bearded. I like little children because my image has not been dulled in them. I like them because they are still growing; they are still improving.”