Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Mt 18:3
Jesus urges us over and over again in the Gospels to become like children. But to be honest, I have always been turned off by the idea. To me, becoming like a child suggests some sort of drastic change in personality and way of life. It makes me feel like I need to start dragging a blanket around and sucking my thumb. And honestly, I don’t think the other sisters in the convent would appreciate this.
However, recently I had a change of mind about this whole idea.
I was a 3rd grade teacher and one of the things that continually amazed me was a child’s humble capacity to ask questions. Children know they know very little and they are ok with that. They are not afraid of looking stupid. And most of the time they ask amazing questions that I have no idea how to answer like, “Ms. Noble, when fish fall down a waterfall do they die?”
The thing about us adults is that we feel like we should know the answers so we are afraid to ask questions. We don’t want to look uninformed or ignorant in front of others. But the thing is, this is really a fearful and faulty way to look at the world. What we do not know is always going to outweigh what we know. We are never going to cease being children in the big scheme of things. If we set ourselves up to look like we know everything all the time, we are setting ourselves up for constant failure.
Think about it:
First, think of the greatest minds in the world – Einstein, Aquinas, Newton, etc. What a normal person knows, and is capable of knowing, is nothing compared to the greatest minds in human history.
Second, if you think you are among one of these geniuses, then compare what you know to the conglomeration of human knowledge over all of human history. One person’s personal knowledge really amounts to nothing, even if you are Einstein or Aquinas.
Third, compare your mind to the mind of God which encompasses all human knowledge and then much much more. Or, if you don’t believe in God, compare what you know to all that there is to know, including what humans have not discovered.
This little exercise helped me to realize that in the cosmic scheme of things, we are all children.
We all really know very little. We may compare ourselves to others and think we are hot stuff but if we are real with ourselves we all fall short, we are all drastically limited in our knowledge, abilities and talents.
It is hard to admit but we don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.
This reality of our smallness can seem to some depressing and overwhelming.
But what is the Christian response to this reality?
When Jesus tells us to be like children, he is not telling us to go back to wearing diapers. He is simply asking us to admit to what we already are. Turning and becoming like children does not mean that we need to change. It means that we turn and embrace our limited nature. Through this, we find freedom from constant pretense and delusions. And from this place of truth, we do change – because in truth, God is able to transform us.