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BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are changed and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3

What could Jesus have meant when he said this? In what way are we to become as little children? I have spent my life, growing away from being a little child, maturing into an adult. If someone said that I was like a little child, I would probably take it as a criticism. I would wonder what I had done wrong. But Jesus surely had good reason to make this statement. So, let?s look for ways in which becoming as a little child might be a valuable thing.

One thing that comes to mind is that little children do not already think they know it all. With great fondness, and a certain longing for the good old days, I remember when my children would ask me a question and then wait in rapt attention for me to give them the answer. They had not already decided what the answer was; they really wanted to hear what I had to say.

Compare this to me when I ask my Father in Heaven a question. Seldom is it a question for which I want His answer. Generally, I am asking Him to agree with me. I can say, ?Father, would You please provide for my needs?? Am I asking Him what I need, or am I suggesting He make sure I get all the things I have already decided I need? If I have had a problem with someone in my life, do I say, ?Father, what do you want me to do? How do you want me to love this child of yours who is before me?? Or do I mean, ?Please make this jerk see things my way.? or ?Can?t you make all this go away for me??  What I may be asking for is a solution to the problem that provides an answer I want to hear. I have probably already decided on an answer; I just want instant delivery. The point is, as adults we seldom open our minds to a true answer. We have already made our minds up, and now we just want to get our way, or we just want validation that we are right.

Trust is something else that children do well. When my daughter was very young she came to me because she was upset. It had something to do with what another child had said to her. She wanted to tell me about it, but she was so upset with what was said that she couldn?t bring herself to tell me. I wanted her to share with me because then I could help her, but I would not force her to do so. Finally, with some gentle prodding from me, she finally came out with the whole story. I was able to help her see the incident in a different way, and she was relieved of the burden of her disappointment and anger. Even though she could not, at first, imagine how I could make this better, she trusted me as her mother to help.  So she came to me with her story, and because she had faith in my love and wisdom, was ready to take a painful look at what was troubling her.

I want to be as a little child in my faith. I want to come to God with what troubles me, and look at it with Him. He will not force me to unburden myself, but he waits patiently for me to realize that His love for me is unconditional. He waits patiently for me to reach a stage of willingness that will allow me to look with Him at the painful places in my life. I can do this when I feel guilty about a past action. He will unburden me of my guilt. He will show me a different way to see this, just as I did for my little girl those many years ago. Just as it took faith on her part, and courage as well, I must trust that God will not condemn me and that His love for me will heal me.

Something that little children have down pat is forgiveness. Don?t we make forgiveness seem so very hard? Children have it right. They don?t ?try? to forgive; they just do. I read an article recently by Rev. Hugh Prather in which he told a story about a child who wanted to invite a certain friend to her party. ?You?re not going to invite Joie to your party, are you?? asks the mother of this four year old. ?Don?t you remember what Joie did to you?? But the child answers, ?Joie is fun to play with.? There she did it. Children know how to forgive.

It is only as we grow older that we learn to hold onto our grievances. Then we forget how to forgive. We forget that forgiving is not hard, it is not something we try to do, it is just something we do. When I try to make forgiveness hard, I simply ask myself what I really want. Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? Sometimes I can?t have both. The little girl in our story had no problem deciding what she wanted. Being right took a far second to being happy. Perhaps one reason choosing happiness seems easier for a child is that they still have a lot of experience with happiness. They haven?t yet given their happiness away so often that they?ve lost touch with its value. I find that the more I practice choosing happiness, (or peace) the more I am motivated to choose happiness, to choose peace. I could get used to feeling happy!

Another reason forgiveness seems hard to us is that we become discouraged if we are unable to completely forgive the first time we try. I have often forgiven someone a slight, and in that moment, I really meant it; then a ways down the road (a day later, or a moment later) I find myself feeling anger over the same situation. The temptation is to give up. As Rev. Prather said in his article on how to forgive, forgiveness occurs only in the present. He reminds us that we don?t have to forgive for tomorrow, just for this instant. Otherwise, when a judgmental thought comes back, we feel like throwing up our hands and saying, ?This is impossible.?

I think this idea of living in the present moment is something else little children have nailed. It is so hard for adults to do, but kids do it with no effort. Can you remember your little one being so angry with you that they would shout, ?I hate you!? Two minutes later, they were snuggling in your lap, all love. Hey, that was then; this is now; living totally in the present. The problem with living in the past is that when we bring the past to the present, we absolutely guarantee the future will be just like the past. Not a good thought, is it?

I was thinking of examples of how we bring the past into the present. Perhaps you have heard someone say, ?You can depend on me,? and then immediately thought, ?Not likely.? Why would you think that? Could it be that you were judging the present statement on what has happened in the past? We do this so much that sometimes we are bringing the past we had with a completely different person into the present. If we took a moment to think it out, we would remember that it was a different person who let us down. Doesn?t mean this person is going to, but we keep bringing that unpleasant past moment into our present until we come to expect to be let down by everyone. We create a present in which we see ourselves as being unsupported, and surrounded by untrustworthy people. We begin to see ourselves as a victim.

Often, by the time we are adults we have done this so much that we start to believe that it is a necessary defense in our lives to judge each person and situation by the past. We tell ourselves that this is part of the maturing process. We learn to protect ourselves. In this process, however, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to experience life differently than we have in the past. As soon as we expect people to let us down, we have set up life to provide exactly that. Our very expectations set into motion the words and acts that will bring this about.

But, there is a different way to see this.  When Jesus said that we should not judge, he did not say this because he wanted to leave us defenseless. He said it because not judging is our defense. When we become as little children, we leave the past in the past. If little Joie had broken her friend?s toy, well as far as her friend was concerned, that was then. Now they are going to have fun. Young children (before they are taught differently) don?t judge. They don?t think back to what happened in the past before deciding how they feel about someone now. They just feel what they feel. They live in this moment.

Does that mean that if someone reacts violently, I should just forget that it happened and take up with that person again? No, of course I don?t mean that. God does not expect us to be self destructive. If someone hurts me, I will avoid putting myself in the position where I can be hurt again. However, I will not bring that expectation with me into every relationship. I will let each relationship be what it is, without comparing it to the one that came before it.

There is nothing more damaging to a relationship than bringing the past into the present. I heard someone say that even though she still loved her partner, there was no way they could remain together because there was just too much water under the bridge. What she really meant is that they cannot leave the past in the past. Every disagreement becomes a battleground to re-hash the past. They have no chance at a future any different from the relationship they had in the past, because they have brought it with them. They have allowed past hurts to so clutter the ground on which they have established their relationship, that there is no clear spot on which to build their future.

In their wonderful book, ?The Journey That Never Was? DavidPaul and Candace Doyle share with us the message they got from the Holy Spirit regarding their new relationship. They were told: ?It is essential that you both be vulnerable, open, honest, sweet, loving, innocent, and as little children in this process because then God can work through you to show you how to be with each other.?

I wonder what it would be like to follow that advice. What would it feel like? I notice that He did not advise them to be careful. He did not tell them to learn from their past errors. He did not remind them how easy it is to get hurt when you open to others. Instead, they were directed to do just the opposite. Like little children they begin their relationship completely open, honest and vulnerable. They begin with blank slates. Like little children they go into their relationship with hearts open, waiting for direction and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
This is a perfect example of what Jesus meant when he said we should become as little children. I try to do this in all areas of my life with varying degrees of success. I try to recognize that I don?t understand what is in my best interests. I don?t know it all. That is why I ask God for help in my life. He cannot help me to see the truth if I already think I have the answer.

I try to forgive as a little child forgives; completely and immediately. Sometimes the adult in me gets in the way and holds to my grievances as if they are of great value. Always I have to finally decide what is of more value to me, my righteous indignation or the peace of God.

I also try to live in the present moment. I try to leave the past in the past where it no longer exists. I know that this is essential if I hope for a future that is better than what I had before.

In choosing to become as a little child, I am choosing to put God in charge of my life. I am choosing to hear His Voice and follow His guidance. I am choosing a peaceful, joyful, and loving life.

© 2005, Pathways of Light. http://pathwaysoflight.org
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