The Simple Joy of Childhood
I love to watch young children in public places, like fast food restaurants. They live in their own worlds, making up games, inventing characters, creating their own entertainment. They are totally ingenuous. They don’t care if anyone is watching—don’t know anyone is watching. They are being, in the truest sense of the word.
Then they grow up. I taught middle school for many, many years. Most of my students were self-conscious, convinced the whole world was looking at them, worried about how their peers would see them. There were days when I longed to see the absolute innocence of the little ones. I think—without being aware of it—one of my goals for my students was to help them recapture that time in their lives.
Tony Horning captured the innocent wonder of childhood when he wrote the following piece about a show-and-tell experience.
“Jamie came to school one morning with a rolled-up towel that secured his priceless treasure. Waiting to share was frustrating for both Jamie and Mr. Taylor. This little boy, eager to share his discovery, interrupted lesson after lesson.
“When Jamie’s time finally came, the students formed a circle on the floor. Jamie lowered his towel to the floor with much care and slowly unrolled it to reveal a handful of old, soggy, brown leaves from his yard—not the beautiful leaves of autumn with their vibrant reds and yellows; just plain, old, brown leaves.
“As Mr. Taylor looked around that circle, he was surprised to see on the children’s faces amazement, wonder, joy!
“Listening to the class you would have thought they were staring into the Grand Canyon. Captivated, these children held those soggy leaves as if they were newborn kittens.
“There in that circle, the teacher became the student. For a brief moment, Mr. Taylor could remember a time when the simplest things in life brought wonder and joy to him as well.”
I think Jesus must have felt the same joy I feel—and Mr. Taylor felt—as he watched the mothers bring their little children to him. No problems with people trying to trap him. No arguments over who would be first in the kingdom. No one seeking something from him. Just kids, loving life and living in their own worlds.
And Jesus loved them. In a culture where children were mostly ignored, Jesus gave them his complete attention. They were, as the old hymn says, precious in his sight. No wonder he reacted negatively—perhaps even angrily—when the disciples tried to keep them away. Not only was he enjoying the interaction with them, he knew their importance.
“Don’t send them away,” he said. “They are what God’s kingdom is all about. I tell you the solemn truth; if you don’t come to God’s kingdom with the innocence and love these children are demonstrating, you’ll be on the outside looking in. Let them come. I welcome them.”
Some of us have experienced horrible-acting children, and we might be skeptical of Jesus’ words. But if you’ve ever watched little ones when they’re lost in their own magical worlds of play, or held them in your arms and felt the beauty and completeness of their love, you understand exactly what Jesus meant.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus says today, “and do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God.” And we’re all children in God’s sight.