“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.” (Matthew 18:3 NLT)
Becoming like little children can mean innocent, open, curious, full of wonder. Those sound good. But it can also mean whiny, defiant, prone to tantrums, veering wildly between absolute dependence and insistence on independence. These don’t sound so laudable. Lets call the first group childlikeness and the second group childishness.
It’s easy to imagine God blessing us when we are childlike and disciplining us when we are childish, after all, that’s roughly what human parents do. But God has blessed my childishness over and over. When I turn to him like a surly toddler, he gives me what I need.
Parenting advice is full of ways to deal with whiny children—none of which involve giving them what they’re whining about. Ten years ago, I was repeatedly whining to God, making wild promises I wasn’t keeping, and pouting about how difficult things were, and I got a clear message:
If you are going to act like a child, then read a children’s Bible.
So I did. I read The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones for my devotions and was transported every day by Jago’s illustrations, by the beautiful and simple language, by the theme of every story whispering the name of Jesus. I clung to Lloyd-Jones’s repeated description of God’s love for me:
“Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”*
I felt taken care of, soothed and loved by God. It was one of my most faithful devotional seasons. God flooded me with reminders of how much he loves me and how much he has done for me—which fed a deep need, which, in turn, helped me handle all those things I’d been having such a hard time with.
Tired and cranky
I am a children’s worship leader, which means I work with children, telling them Bible stories and modeling Christlikeness, even on days when I know I’m tired and cranky and have no more charm left. Yet telling those stories and modeling Christlikeness is my calling. Moreover, I love those children and I love the children in my house who I probably snapped at that very morning. Driving to church on those days, I feel like a toddler who is overwhelmed by all the conflicting emotions and falls facedown on the floor, unable to help themselves.
I am unable to count how many times I’ve driven to church, saying to God,
“I have nothing. You’re going to have to give me your patience, your kindness, your gentleness, because I have none of my own left.”
And God does. Every time.
Recently, my Sunday school class and I read about Gideon being told by an angel that God chose him to lead the Israelites in battle against their oppressors and I was amazed at how gutsy he was. Upon encountering an angel, he doesn’t feel fear like everyone else in the Bible. When the angel greets Gideon with, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you,” he essentially says, “Oh yeah? Life stinks and God hasn’t been so impressive.”** And then he makes the angel give him a sign that it really is the Lord speaking to him. Later, he makes God give him two signs that God will come through as he’s promised.
It takes guts to directly challenge the Lord. Or a heavy dose of childishness.
After my marriage ended, it took me two years to start dating. When one of my friends worried about me getting hurt, I replied, “Don’t worry about that. I have no intention of falling in love.” This answer did not make him feel better; he got on my case about treating the men I was meeting like objects.
Although one of my favorite definitions of sin is novelist Terry Pratchett’s (in the character of Granny Weatherwax)—“sin…is when you treat people as things. Including yourself.”—that was not what I wanted to hear.***
I tried to convince myself that I was right in continuing as I wanted to, but his words had enough ring of truth that I said the following to the Lord:
“Fine. If my friend is right, then you’re going to have to bring me someone I can’t resist. Someone who is so right for me that I can’t help falling in love. Because I’m not going to look for him. And I’ll probably fight it. So you’re going to have to do it.”
It was ridiculous how quickly the Lord brought me someone I couldn’t resist falling in love with. By all parenting advice, God should not have told me “No,” and when I complained and challenged him, given me something better. But he did.
Why might childishness “work”?
Because we don’t reward childishness, I wonder why God continues to bless me for it. Is it because utter reliance is the appropriate response to the Lord, and whether my attitude is glad or cranky, he gives me what I need? Is it because I recognize my childishness and ask his forgiveness for it? Is it yet another instance of grace that I haven’t earned?
I don’t know why. I’m just grateful God loves me with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love that can withstand whininess, tantrums, and defiance—grateful that God loves all of us with that kind of love.
Do you have any stories of your own childishness to share?
I’d love to know I’m not alone!
* Lloyd-Jones, Sally. The Jesus Storybook Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 36.
** Judges 6:12 NLT
*** Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum.