My latest for Sojourners
Being a parent is an awesome task. On one hand you have the responsibility of caring for another human being; on the other, children can push the limits of your sanity, sleep habits, and your willpower while you watch the same TV show for the 14th time in a week. Parenting is not easy. Don’t believe me? Google ‘parenting tips’ and watch the advice flow in. Most of it is not worth reading, but every now and then you can find a diamond in the rough. Every person who has ever been a parent (and some who have not) will have an opinion on everything from discipline to feeding schedules and car seat options.
One important task that parents have is passing on values and beliefs to the next generation. Since we are Christian, my wife and I are raising our family in the church. It’s wonderful to see the wheels turning in my daughter’s head as she is learning about the faith that I hold so dear. This past Christmas was especially wonderful because this was the first year that the story of the coming of Christ in the world as a baby in a manger prompted awe and wonder. I have to admit I envy her; she is hearing the stories of God, Jesus, and the disciples for the first time. What I wouldn’t give to be able to listen to what goes on in her mind when she hears about angels singing or God loving humanity without conditions.
We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.
In the Gospel of Mark, we find these words of Jesus: “ I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15–Common English Bible). This verse is referenced when someone speaks that followers of Christ should have “faith like a child.” Generally, this is defined as “simple faith” or “faith without question.” This, however, is a misguided understanding.
My daughter, although she is only 3, understands the notion of the Gospel at basic level. For example, while traversing the aisles of a grocery store, my daughter exclaimed the words every parent has heard: “Daddy I want one of those.” I looked in the direction she was pointing thinking I was going to see a candy display or something with her favorite cartoon character on it. I didn’t see any of those things. I asked for her to clarify and she again pointed to a display of brown paper bags that had been filled with canned goods to be purchased for the local homeless shelter. She said, “I want to get one of those bags for the people who can’t come to the store to buy things.” I learned later that my wife the week previously had explained the bags to her. No matter how she learned about the bags, there was no way in the world I was telling her ‘no.’ What kind of message would that send to a child with a budding faith and curiosity about the world around her? I knew in that moment that my 3-year-old daughter was acting on her faith in a way that most adults never get a glimpse of. She didn’t ask how the people who needed the food got into the situation they were in and neither would Jesus. She didn’t say too many people were receiving handouts and neither would Jesus. She didn’t care about who got the bag of food and neither would Jesus. Simply put, if we are called to be followers of Christ, then we should start doing some Christ-like things.
Children’s faiths are alive and strong, and the church needs to recognize this instead of repeating corny “children’s sermons” that are usually well intentioned but often developmentally inappropriate. The church’s story is being heard and lived out in front of our eyes through the hands and feet of some of the smallest members of the church. Why are we amazed that more children are asking to give money or toys to others instead of receiving for themselves? This is something that should be an extension of our own faith; sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to reorient our thinking about what truly matters.
Having faith like a child does not mean that we take everything at face value, but it does mean that we have the ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Children’s faiths are constantly being shaped and formed by the people around them and by the answers they get to important questions. If we cannot articulate our faith in a way that a child can understand, then we have a failure in communication.
I want to have a child’s faith; I want the stories of the Bible to be more than just words on a page or the same old story. I want to be emboldened in my faith to step out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around me. And if I can do that, I know that I will have a partner in ministry with me.
Let’s not lose that sense of wonder that children possess.
Rev. Evan Dolive