Faith Like a Child
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” — Matthew 18:1-5
Children are a constant wonder. They are drawn to simple things with great awe and yet speak honest words that most adults haven’t the courage to say. We often admire children for their unique insights and captivating ways of describing adult concepts. But rarely do we include them in adult conversations.
The books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all write accounts about the value Jesus placed on children in an unexpected moment. One day, the disciples asked Jesus who the most important people in heaven would be. We might assume they were after praise and affirmation of their own status. After all, they were the people with whom Jesus chose to spend the most time. But, Jesus shocked them by gathering up one of the nearby children and presenting the child as the ideal heavenly citizen. Often socially overlooked because of naivety, a child suddenly became the chosen and valued example for entering heaven.
Reflecting on this story, we might ask ourselves as the disciples did, what child-like qualities contribute to a better understanding of the values of the kingdom of heaven?
The first thing Jesus points to is the dependence of children. Relying on adults for even the most basic needs, children are open to asking for help in their vulnerability. As a child grows, they need their parents less and less, yet it is at this early age that Jesus praises them. Why? Because it is the dependence on God’s mercy and grace that allows us access to the kingdom. Dependence requires faith that God will provide and help push us higher to our greatest joys. It is a recognition of our own limitations and a willingness to accept guidance.
The other quality that is so intuitive to children is their question-driven conversation. They ask questions to gain knowledge of how the world around them functions. In a similar way, they answer questions with complete honesty and rarely hold back out of concern for social convention or decorum. Unlike the disciples who asked questions with presumed answers in mind, children inquire to genuinely learn and will not ask a question if they already know the answer. Our relationship with God can function in a very similar way—if we are asking questions with an agenda, we are doing it wrong. But when we earnestly seek God for knowledge and wisdom, we gain a different perspective and understanding of the world.
As adults, our hearts are warmed by the trust children give us in their dependence as well as their thoughtful yet unique questions. The openness of children, with all their curiosities and vulnerabilities, brings insight and joy into even the most philosophical conversations regarding our lives of faith. It must have shocked the disciples when Jesus drew the children close and instructed his followers to take lessons of faith from lowly, naive positions. But from those places, we can continue to learn about the values of heaven. When next we encounter a child with a question, let us ponder what their curiosity and trust can teach us. May we marvel at the ways our faith can grow from asking God questions.
Words: Sabrina Dawson