Note: This post is a follow up to my prior post. If you missed it, you can find it here: Saturday Shadows
“And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”” ~Matthew 18:3
What in the heck does this mean? I’ve heard many thoughts on this through the years, but a new idea is beginning to take shape in my mind and heart.
I listened to a video of children telling the Easter weekend story – I was struck to the core by their innocent and simple understanding of who Jesus was and what he did. And I wondered about these sweet, tender faces – what will happen to each of them in the coming decades? What anxieties, bullying, trauma, disappointments, and screw-ups await? That might sound pessimistic, but experience tells me it is right on target.
Because for most of us, this broken world will break us at some point, and our innocence is stolen. For some, life is simply tinged by evil. For others, a dark, light-blocking shade is pulled over everything because trauma rewires the brain for self-protection out of desperate necessity.
For children who were forced to grow up way too soon, how on earth do they enter the kingdom of heaven?
I’m no Biblical scholar, but I do not think this is a verse about salvation. I think it is a verse about a calling to life, a verse inviting us to the right-now-kingdom-of-heaven that surrounds us, invisibly and completely. He is giving us the key to sight, the key to experience real color, real hearing, real touch, real intimacy. And the key to that joyful, eternal kind of kingdom-life is to become a child.
Can I wake up tomorrow and toss off the trauma of life, the disappointments in relationships, the shame of my own participation in my loss of innocence? I cannot. But I believe that Jesus made that statement knowing that He was capable of walking with me, with each of us, on a journey that heals wounds. It is a walk forward into love and joy, and also a walk backwards to reclaim the innocent connection with our Maker. Only a Maker not bound by time is capable in taking us both forwards and backwards simultaneously.
And that brings me to dear Peter, who would lead the very establishment of the Christian church. He was lost in a fog of confusion after the trauma of seeing his leader, his friend, his love, betrayed and crucified. His innocence is dashed, and he runs. His mild denial becomes a hardened denouncement, and then the denouncement is followed by an oath filled with cursing. Jesus is cast aside and he is alone and he has utterly failed. Sound familiar to anyone besides me?
Whether it is horrific trauma at the hands of a caregiver or simply the daily trudging through a jaded and care-less world, we can all reach that point of disillusionment. We can all find ourselves lost and alone. For many of us, at some point, we snap.
Our initial, mild shutdown causes us to wander from what we know to be true. (I don’t know him.) When confronted, we become defensive and isolate. (I DO NOT know the man!) Maybe we stay there – boxed off from authentic community. Maybe our journey continues into despair or addiction or hurting those we love most. (I swear on everything that is holy, I have never known him!)
We are Peter. We have failed. God seems like a childhood imaginary friend. Our friends and family are gone or distant. The torment sits so heavy on our chest, we fear we might not get another breath. We are desperately alone…
Until we are not – because suddenly, Jesus is back and we are eating breakfast on the beach and we are saying, “I love you.” “ I love you so very much!” “Oh, I love you, my precious friend and savior – more than I have words for – and I would follow you anywhere!” And we are not 6 years old again, and we did not magically erase the harm we caused or the harm done to us. But we are a spiritual child again, and we are free.
Our innocence is being restored. It is offered to us each day upon our waking. We are given the gift each moment to choose – a world muted by evil’s misery or the brilliant, colorful world of His merciful healing.