By Kelly Carr
One example of this is when the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest was in the kingdom. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
The disciples might have been taken aback by Jesus’ words. After all, children in their day were not highly favored. Likely adults in their culture did not fawn over young ones the way we may see in our culture today. The infant mortality rate was high, so perhaps people didn’t want to get too attached, knowing survival was not guaranteed. Others may have cared more about the future of children than their present, waiting for the day when they would grow enough to contribute to the work force and later add to the family lineage.
Another day, not long after Jesus said this, some children were clamoring to get near Jesus and the disciples tried to shoo them away. Jesus reiterated their importance: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus’ suggestion that the disciples should become like these dependent members of society may have surprised his followers. Just what did he mean by those words?
Many people have dissected Jesus’ meaning, and there are a number of ways to apply his statements. But here are a few that stick out to me, some characteristics in children that we adults would do well to emulate:
• Be more trusting. Children are often more trusting than adults. The older we are, the more negative realities we usually observe in this world. Our inclination may be to keep up our guard to make sure we’re not being taken advantage of. Yes, that’s good in some cases. But if we refuse to let down that guard, we can forget how to trust the right people and forget how to trust God.
• Rely on others. Children have to rely on adults to provide for their needs. They cannot do it all themselves. As we age, we start to figure out what we can control ourselves, and our tendency is to grasp that independence. Yet we can’t do it all ourselves, even as adults. God has created us to live in community and wants us to rely on each other.
• Continue to grow. Children were designed to grow—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We are not born as fully developed people; that is a lifelong process. But at some point we feel as if we have a choice. Once we stop growing physically, we may become content where we are and think that other growth is also complete. However, we can always find room to mature mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Sometimes we may wish we could go back in time to capture childlike wonder and joy and hope once more. Now’s our chance—we can be kids again! Jesus said so.