They say that love can heal the broken
They say that hope can make you see
They say that faith can find a Savior
If you would follow and believe
With faith like a child.
—Jars of Clay, “Like a Child”
Faith like a child – I wonder what that would look like? When Jesus says the pure in heart will see God, I try to consider what it would mean to be pure in heart. I end up thinking about young people – children even – who pursue things in the face of adult cynicism.
Think young Arthur pulling Excalibur from the rock in The Sword in the Stone.
Think Snow White, with a princess who is unafraid of an evil witch’s power.
But when it comes to purity, there’s nothing quite so pure as the things kids say. They simply lack the shades of nuance and deception that adults do. I know this is true, because I live with two kids who are almost compelled to tell the truth. Consider Chunk’s confession in The Goonies: sometimes, we just have to tell it like it is.
A few of my favorite reminders about how kids think:
Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers.
The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem. They give him $50.”
The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song. They give him $100.”
The third boy says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon, and it takes eight people to collect all the money!”
Or this: A preacher’s little boy inquired, “Daddy, I notice every Sunday morning when you first come out to preach, you sit up on the platform and bow your head. What are you doing?”
The father explained, “I’m asking the Lord to give me a good sermon.”
The little boy said, “Then why doesn’t he?”
Darlene was sitting on her grandfather’s lap as he read her a bedtime story.
From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke up, ‘Grandpa, did God make you?’
‘Yes, darling,’ he answered, ‘God made me a long time ago.’
Feeling their respective faces again, Darlene observed, ‘God’s getting better at it, isn’t he?’
Kids do say the darndest things, don’t they?
We know that children are pure in heart – we even encourage them not to grow up to fast, to enjoy the little things in life. But as we grow older, the weight of the world begins to weigh on our shoulders, and suddenly things begin to change. One of them is our purity of heart…
Now, Jesus says in the Beattitudes that “blessed are those who are pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Later in Matthew he said, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ There seems to be a direct relationship between being like a child, being pure in heart, and growing into the kingdom of God.
So how can we be more like children? How can we be pure in heart?
But the problem is that the longer we live in community, the more troubled we become – the more shields go up and the masks drop down over our faces…. and our hearts.
And Jesus says we should be more like children… seriously, what would that look like?
#1 Children value the ‘other.’
Sometimes, we get caught up in thinking that we all need to be the same.
We think we need to do things the same way as other people – that we need the things that we have – that we need to look like them.
I remember back in the eighth grade, getting contacts, and experiencing a world like it was the first time. I could see! I was free of glasses – and in the same time, braces – and I thought that somehow that related to how cool I could be.
I remember the first dance – you know, boys on the left and girls on the right – and I saw that the ‘cool kids’ all had… white pants that glowed fluorescent underneath the DJs’ lights. So I begged my parents to buy me those baggy, MC Hammer pants!
You know what is incredibly not cool? White pants!
But the thing is that kids know that they’re special – and so is everyone else. They love what other people can bring – and they value those other people for what they are and what they do. They are aware of the divine spark in each other.
There is a story of a monastery that had fallen upon sad times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.
In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again ” they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, “the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”
“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving –it was something cryptic– was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”
In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect. (The Rabbi’s Gift)
What would happen if we valued each other for our differences? What would happen if we recognized the presence of Christ in each of us?
#2 Children wonder.
Kids want to explore. Kids want to know what’s behind that corner, off the path.
My kids are still like that. They’re crazy! I can remember being on the softball field, and turning to the bleachers. There went my youngest, unsteadily up the bleachers to the top – where he could jump off! I would never climb something four times my height and jump off of it – unless there was water below.
Sometimes, I catch myself – calling out to prevent them from the straying off the path. The worries about poison ivy … or stepping in less pleasant gifts left by pets … they get in the way of my sense of exploration. But my kids, they want to experience sticks, and bugs, and funny shapes on trees. They see the beauty of God’s creation around them, and they want to wrap their hearts and little arms around them.
I love Christmas (yes, I know it’s July and Christmas is months away). I love the decorations, the gift giving, the Christmas carols, the cookies (yes, the cookies!) … and the sense of wonder.
Christmas is that time of the year when the space between what is – and what could be – is closed to the smallest degree. At Christmastime, we see the world in the way it could be, in its goodness, full of grace and promise… and kids eat that up. Kids wonder all of the time… and if we could capture that essence in ourselves, it would change our lives.
#3 Children imagine, and aren’t afraid to try.
Kids want to run up mountains and fight dragons, or spin around in a sea of bubbles and pretend they’re princesses. Kids believe they’ll be something impossible – even when adults tell them there’s no way that could happen.
It’s not always the skeptics who show up to test our children though – sometimes, we’re guilty of doing the same thing:
A kindergarten teacher was walking around her classroom while her students drew pictures. One little girl was scribbling so intently that the teacher asked what she was drawing. The little girl replied, “I’m drawing a picture of Jesus.” The teacher said, “Oh honey, nobody really knows for sure what Jesus looked like.” The little girl, without missing a beat, responded, “They will in a minute.”
Can you imagine the stories of the Bible come to life? Can you see yourself wrapped in the promise of God’s love and grace for your life?
Children can. Children see what could be.
#4 Kids believe, even in the face of skepticism, and aren’t afraid to share.
A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.
Shortly after, along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.
“Hey” asked the boy in return with a bright laugh, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”
The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy and began to try to open his eyes to the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”
The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible laying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go. Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation.
“Wow!” exclaimed the boy happily, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”
While the above example is fictional, I’ve experienced kids tell grownups that God loves them – even adults who don’t believe there is a god.
I’ve seen kids tell people they were being prayed for, even when those adults hadn’t seen prayer make a difference before.
The truth is, that these characteristics of children – and many more – would be attributes we should embrace for our grown-up selves. They would free us from worry, unlock us from the chains of doubt, and open us up to the life God wants so desperately for us.
We could truly be pure of heart… if we would just become like little children, welcomed into their Father’s arms.