As an educator, I spend a great deal of time reading. Occasionally, I stumble across a passage that makes me laugh out loud with delight. Here’s a recent favorite, from renowned psychologist Martin Seligman, telling of a lesson learned while in the garden with his five-year-old daughter:
I have to confess that even though I have written a book and many articles about children, I’m actually not very good with them. I am goal-oriented and time-urgent and when I’m weeding the garden, I’m weeding. Nikki, however, was throwing weeds into the air and dancing and singing. Since she was distracting me, I yelled at her, and she walked away. Within a few minutes she was back, saying, “Daddy, I want to talk to you.”
“Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday? From when I was three until when I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. On my fifth birthday, I decided I wasn’t going to whine anymore.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being a grouch.”
It was an epiphany for Seligman. He had never realized how much of his life was spent walking beneath a storm cloud until his five-year-old made it clear to him.
It reminds me of this passage from Matthew:
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. (Matt 18:1-5, NIV)
And this one, scarcely a page later in Matthew’s narrative:
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:13-14, NIV)
The lesson, apparently, had not quite sunk in for the Twelve. Their words and actions suggested adult-minded priorities that missed the meaning of the kingdom. Children represented the weak and lowly of society; the kingdom of heaven is still one that embraces humility and service as opposed to self-importance and dominance.
That’s not precisely the moral of Seligman’s story, at least as he tells it. And yet he represents an approach to life with which many of us might identify: we’re serious-minded people with an important mission, but little joie de vivre. Truth be told, we can be grouchy as all get out, charter members of Grumps for God.
When Jesus tried to correct his disciples, did he bring children into their midst just to make a theological point? Were children just handy metaphors for teaching about lowliness?
Or did Jesus actually like being around children?
You decide. Then ask yourself why it might make a difference, to your life or ministry.