They are everywhere. They are found on every continent in every culture. Without them the human race would be doomed to extinction in a few short decades. They fill the air with laughter, like the sound of water gurgling in a happy brook. Their capacity for imagination and happiness is almost boundless. They find treasure in the common things in common places. They are the children.
Children rip away the paper from brightly wrapped presents, discard the expensive gift and spend hours playing with the box. At the playground, they make friends of complete strangers. In a matter of minutes they are playmates making up imaginary games. They are as happy and excited to kick a half-deflated soccer ball in a back alley as any player in a World Cup stadium. They see the world with wide-eyed wonder, and they are blind to color, race or social standing.
We are born reflecting the eternal light that enlightens every man. (John 1:9). But, somewhere along the way, the light dims. The carefree joy of childhood is lost.
Too often, and too soon the children will learn the lessons of prejudice, self centeredness and competition. They learn it from watching the grown ups around them. They learn it from pressure to perform in sports on the field, pressures to live up to the expectation of adults who too often measure life by fame, fortune and winning at all costs.
Jesus treasured the innocence of childhood. He once took a child and stood her in the midst of his grown-up disciples who were arguing among themselves about which one of them was the greatest. Holding the child in his gentle hands, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2).
We all were children once, full of hopes and dreams with boundless imagination. We are prone to lose the magic, exchanging laughter for worry, innocence for anger, expectation for resentment. But somewhere, down deep inside, is the child we once were.
I have known adults living into their eighties whose eyes still twinkle with the joy of a child, whose faces are wrinkled with lines of laughter, who seem to wake up each morning with a child-like excitement for the next day’s adventure. We need not surrender to the bitterness of disappointment. The wisdom of experience can serve as seasoning for the joy of childhood.
Regardless of our circumstances; in spite of our difficulties, set-backs and disappointments; Jesus invites us to enter the Kingdom as a little child, to be filled with a faith that expects to be surprised by glory.