Matthew 18:1-5 — At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
Mark 10:13-16 — Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.
Whether you’ve read these verses before or are into Jesus or not, I bet you know where he’s coming from. It is very difficult for me to look at children and not see that they are in a wholly different world than we are in–one like the kingdom of God. For a large part of my life, I was blessed to live in that world. Deep into my twenties, I can honestly say that I had faith like a child. I chose to see the best in people and I believed in my heart that even the meanest person had some good in them that would come out if I just stood firm in God. I let things go, forgave unconditionally, and only allowed things to bother me in the time that they were actually occurring. Once they were over, they were over and I moved on.
Some people reading this may think that’s pretty cool. They may even say that they wish that they were more like that themselves. But then again, they might not want to endure what was necessary for me to have sustained it for as long as I did. First let me say that I didn’t do anything. I was just a child that took a long time to “grow up” and by the grace of God, for the most part, I actually believed my faith over what the world tried to tell me about who I was and what mattered in life. Nonetheless, because I wouldn’t join the fold, the world kept trying to convince me that I was off.
In high school this drug dealer who was trying to get sell for him said to me, “Pedro, I don’t even see how you like yourself. Your clothes aren’t in style, you need a haircut, you don’t have a girlfriend, and people always want to fight you. No body really likes you.” I smiled and heard myself say, “Well, if I didn’t like me, then it would be a unanimous decision. I can’t let that happen.” I said those words, but the truth is, I do not even know where they came from. I see that as God’s grace to me through me because I was as receptive as a child. I didn’t see the other kid as a bad person or even that he was doing a bad thing. If I were to now put words to how I felt then, I’d say that I just saw us as two innocent children of God who were making choices. Our paths crossed, we had an exchange and we moved on. There was no good guy or bad guy. We were just being.
What I can say, was that the kid was playing a role that has come up in all of our lives time and time again. He played the tempter. Most of the time, I can see the tempter for what it is. Sometimes the tempter comes in an external form that fosters thoughts in our minds that we are not good enough and sometimes we do a good enough job ourselves. After enough experiences with people putting us down, we know the drill and tell ourselves garbage before anyone else gets a chance to. It is really sad.
When I look at my daughter, I try my best to teach her how to be respectful in this world without surrendering to this illusion that we are not good enough. It is very difficult. I want her to be strong, but I do not want her to have to go through what I have experienced to keep the little consciousness I have maintained. But I only know what I learned by living. Right now she is so awesome and the world is so open to her. People love her and she loves herself. She says the things about herself that she hears my wife and I say such as, “I am beautiful. I am intelligent. God loves me. I am happy.” It’s really wonderful to watch.
Everywhere she goes people are saying great things to her and I am sure she is in heaven. But, I can already see children who are a little older than her getting annoyed with her. And unless the world has dramatically changed since I was younger, I know that pretty soon even the adults that seem to love her so much are not going to feel comfortable with her saying out loud that she is beautiful, intelligent, happy, and loved by God. Those same people are going to put her down because the world teaches that at some point we all have to stop feeling too good about ourselves. They see that kind of happiness as childish.
A friend of mine who was child psychologist once told me that women would never feel safe with me. When I asked him why, he said it was because I think like a child, but operate as an adult. he said that they would be strongly attracted to me initially because I would make them feel good about themselves. They’d feel like a kid again, but after a while they would need to feel protected and that kids can’t offer protection, because they are usually unaware of the danger around them.
Even though I wish I could delete that conversation sometimes, that information stuck with me. When he told me that, I saw all of my relationships in a new context. I saw clearly when the world around me started trying to socialize me into the b***s*** we call life. I don’t want to do that to my kid. That’s why I want to get back to expressing the innocence that she knows so that I can teach her how to be in the world, but not of it rather than conforming to it. I want her to feel free to discover herself rather than being told who she is and feeling like she has to compare herself to some made up idea of who she is supposed to. I want her to stay like a child. If it was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for me.
In order to do that for her, I have to know and live the truth that I am just as innocent as she is. Like she did when she learned to walk, I have fallen down many times and I have gotten back up. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them and through them I have developed better execution in some areas. I have to be able to tell myself that I am beautiful, intelligent, happy, and that God loves me so that she can always feel permitted to do the same even if others she may encounter aren’t as willing to admit this.
The great hope is that she will be so awesome that people will never feel like it is their job to bring her down to earth. I truly believe that despite what many of us see and have been taught to believe God still sees us as good. Yet, somehow we have come to believe otherwise. When I grew tired of explaining myself, I tried to hide by fitting in as much as possible. I don’t want to teach that to my daughter. That means I can’t do this anymore. I have to get back to good.