Since becoming a parent, I’ve been asked by a few different people what I’ve learned in the few years I’ve been a mom. I’ve had a couple different answers, but to my surprise, the answers never have anything to do with raising children. The most significant lessons I have learned are those that my children have taught me about faith.
Children all have their unique personalities (they are little people, after all) that will bring out the best and worst in them. Perhaps when you think of children, you picture innocent and adorable faces. But for any of us who have spent even a short time with kids, we know that picture of innocence can be deceiving! Maybe you remember your own missteps as a young person. Or perhaps you have observed (in your own or others’ children) the tantrums, squabbles, misguided choices, and seemingly irrational meltdowns that are part of being a child.
But Jesus sees the best in children. He makes an audacious statement- that to be the greatest in God’s kingdom, we must be like them:
“About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
The Lord’s perspective on children is as bold today as it was back then. When someone calls a grown person a child, it isn’t a compliment. As an adult, being compared to a child is synonymous with being called immature, incompetent, and naïve. This characterization of young people in our culture is unfortunate, because it means that we overlook the importance of cultivating the child-like spirit that Jesus desires.
The greatest lesson we can learn from children? Humilty. Children are free from the life experience that makes them haughty and jaded.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking: children aren’t all that humble. I know that was my first thought when I started really studying humility and kept finding myself in passages of scripture about children. I cannot tell you how many times my son has declared “I do it myself!” (when it is very apparent he cannot do it himself), or the many “whys” that are asked of me throughout the day. Yes, my children are often strong willed and maddeningly inquisitive; but if I choose to see the good in them, I observe two things that make up the spirit of humility that is essential to the life of faith.
1) Children are curious
Children are natural adventurers. Some are more adventurous than others, but every childhood is marked by discovery. From even the earliest moments of life, children actively try to make sense of their world; constantly building upon their previous knowledge.
In order to be curious, we cannot be arrogant or complacent. We must be open to learning and also to where our new understanding may lead us. Whether we accepted Christ one or seventy years ago, He always has something to teach us.
I admit that I often find my children’s curiosity disconcerting. It has the potential to end in messes and injury. And the stakes will be higher in some ways as they get older.
If I allowed my seven-month-old daughter to crawl around the house with no safeguards or supervision, I would be an irresponsible parent. As my children grow up, I want them to continue to love learning. I want them to be open to new ideas and experiences. There are even times when it is appropriate for me to allow my children to face the natural consequences of their actions; but the reason that they can indulge their curiosity is because there are boundaries which keep them safe.
So too does our heavenly Father know the disaster that will result when a curious child is left to run wild and free. The Lord desires a teachable heart in us, but also a heart that knows who its teacher is. Our hearts must be soft and pliable- ready and open to deepening our understanding. If we are weary of learning and think we have grasped all we need of Him, we will miss what He has for us- a glorious wealth of wisdom and strength. (see Ephesians 3:16-19) We are free to be inquisitive because we have His Word as our safeguard, a filter by which we discern the truth.
We must desire to know God; not just enough to get by, but we should want a rich experience of faith. By knowing Him we will learn to trust His character. If we can’t trust the boundaries of His love, our faith will be limited by our own understanding.
2) Children trust “blindly”
Why do children believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny (despite knowing the difference between reality and make believe)? Because someone they trust told them about it. Children trust those they have the strongest attachment to.
If I were to tell my three-year-old son that tomorrow will be a beautiful summer day and we'll go swimming in our new pool, he would be excited and wake up ready to spend a glorious day in the sun. He wouldn't ask me to present a proposal detailing how we will purchase a pool, how it will fit in our tiny backyard, or how a hot summer day will materialize in March (we get snowy, cold winters here). This is a silly example, but the point is, we can't live humbly if we don't trust in God’s sovereignty and care. My son is energized by learning new things, but he also takes me at my word and doesn't concern himself with the things I am responsible for.
God has revealed Himself in creation. We are logical beings because He has made us that way. We understand our bodies and our world because He made it possible for us to understand; he did not make creation arbitrary or random. But because He is Creator, He is outside of that order. He is not limited by time or matter.
Not only is He sovereign, He cares. He loves us. He is not up in heaven wielding His power vindictively or haphazardly. When we open His Word, we see His character that has not and will not change. He is a loving Father to His children. (see Psalm 103)
We may find the naïveté of children amusing, but God commends their pure belief. He desires for us to trust Him as our Father, much like a child “blindly” trusts their guardian(s). It is not blind faith if we know who we are putting our faith in.
All of us who have called upon the Lord are capable of being humble like a child, for it is how we first approached God- searching for truth, recognizing our need for a Savior, and believing that He would in fact save us.
I have been saved by grace through faith, yet I am realizing as I observe my children and experience their dependence on me that I have not maintained the humble posture with which I begun my life with the Lord.
After being born again into God’s family, many of us (myself included) have lived for years with infant-like faith rather than child-like faith.
This distinction came alive for me like never before as I read this Psalm several months ago while putting my daughter to sleep:
“Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child [resting] with his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me [composed and freed from discontent].” (Psalm 131:1-2, AMP)
I’d probably read this verse in the past, but this time it leapt off the page. Why? Because I was living it, right there in that moment. (Don’t you love when God’s Word literally comes alive?) I was feeding my daughter while reading this. And she was certainly not “composed and free from discontent”.
Minutes earlier she had been frantically pecking at my clothes, and when she finally got what she wanted, she continued squirming for several minutes before she settled down.
King David must have had some knowledge of nursing babies when he wrote this, because it made perfect sense to me when I read it while being scratched, bit, and kicked by my baby.
My daughter certainly knows where her food comes from, but she doesn’t always seem to be convinced that I will take care of her. There have been many times that she was so busy bobbing and weaving looking for milk, that she didn’t even realize it was right there in front of her.
Am I like my infant daughter? Or am I “like a weaned child, resting with my mother”, at peace in the arms of my Father, without fear or agenda, blissfully enjoying His presence?
Have I “calmed and quieted my soul” in His love and wisdom? Or am I frenzied and fretting over my needs?
I know my help comes from the Lord, but do I trust Him to help me? Do I actually believe that He wants to help me? (Even when I’ve messed up big time?)
Can I claim to be humble when I rely on my own talents, abilities, and intelligence to know Him and make Him known?
These are the questions I’ve been wrestling with.
As I’ve looked at how humility is illustrated in the bible, I cannot help but look at my children. I have the privilege of experiencing their joy as they master new skills and go on exciting adventures. I get to see the ordinary as extraordinary and be the one to teach them and encourage them. I get to be their safe place.
My Heavenly Father ought to also have those experiences with me.