“Whoever doesn’t receive the kingdom like a child will never enter it.”
Today was a milestone for my 3 year old. She said “thank you, goodbye” to her pacifiers, and we threw them out, never to be used again; and then celebrated with ice cream.
Now—a little backstory. My daughter has been leaning a bit more heavily on her pacifiers since she was weened from breastfeeding about a year ago. Whether it’s for sleep or when she needs emotional comfort, she’d readily and confidently proclaim “I need to get my pacifier to help my body.”
And today we said goodbye to that aide.
It’s not that they were actually pointless. No, they did, in fact, help her self-sooth when she recognized she needed that.
And it’s not that she won’t require “help” for her body going forward. She most definitely will.
It’s that now—as she’s growing older—it’s time to move forward and find other ways to “help her body” when she catches herself needing emotional comfort; another outlet for her to self-sooth.
(As I said, we celebrated by eating ice cream afterwards, so I’m HOPING she doesn’t jump to “I need ice cream to help my body”…)
Here’s the thing: We ALL have “pacifiers.” And they’re not bad. And they’re not wrong. And they don’t make us weak simply because we need them to “help our bodies.” I think what has happened is we’ve associated growing up with doing away with pacifiers. And maybe that’s true. But I think what it moreso comes to is that we highly value being a grown-up. It’s holds more standing in a social hierarchy.
But here’s the question I have: is getting older the same as growing up?
Or can you get older, and yet still be childlike?
See, there’s many of us who (in some form or another) experienced trauma from a young age, and were—in a sense—forced to “grow up” quickly.
And yet, equally so, there are also many of us who never got older, even though we grew up.
Immature, “childish” adults.
Amen (Hebrew for “let it be (so)”) I say, unless you are “strepho” and “ginomai” children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I’ve spent a lot of my life attempting to pass as a grown adult.
Most of this stems from deeply rooted issues and a need to protect myself (re: childhood trauma). And in my life, I’ve been both a grown-up child and a childish adult.
But here’s the quandary that Jesus presents: just what does it look like to allow yourself to be changed and become a child? What’s being a child look like when you’re an adult if not one of the two options mentioned above?
What’s it mean to be “childlike”?
Now, I love Spielberg’s 1991 film, “Hook.” And I was going to tie this post in with the film, but upon re-inspection of many of the ideas presented in Hook, I’m not sure how fully behind the message I am, as I once was.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that’s right in what the message conveys.
And so rather than get into what it gets wrong, I’m simply going to stick with the points that I think encapsulate what I’m trying to convey.
In the course of the film, Peter Banning (actually THE Peter Pan) comes to realize why he left Neverland in the first place.
And it wasn’t to grow up.
It was to become a dad.
This comes after countless interactions with his children, angry at them for being, well…children. For not being grown-ups themselves.
And further, this comes after entering the previously thought to be imaginary world of Neverland. A place designed for children to escape to and never grow up. Except Neverland isn’t a place solely for actual children.
We see adults there too. However…“All Grown-Ups are pirates.”
So who are these grown-ups that have also escaped to this imaginary world? What exactly do the pirates convey? What are they obsessed with? What do they want? Who do they follow?
What do they live for?
And what were they escaping from?
They’re not children. But they act like children. Children with “grown-up”, adult preferences, desires.
So does that qualify the pirates in Neverland as being “childlike”?
Either way, there is, nevertheless, this stark difference between Neverland, and the “real” world.
Peter left Neverland not to grow up, but to become a father. And somewhere along the way, he grew up. The “grown-ups” in Neverland, the pirates, act like children, and perhaps would do so in the “real” world as well.
Maybe that’s why they escaped the real world for Neverland.
They’re not childlike, but they’re closer to what I think Jesus is looking for and requiring than the grown-ups in the real world. Some part of them knows that the real world is less real than Neverland.
The real world is more constructed and imaginary than Neverland.
And while the pirates are childish and not childlike, as I said, I think they’re closer and more ready to accept a Kingdom of Heaven as a child than most “grown-ups” in the real world.
So again, what’s it mean to be childlike?
Does it mean never letting go of your pacifiers?
Does it mean hating vegetables?
Pretending to be a baby?
You see, we weren’t having my daughter throw away her pacifiers in a bid to get her to grow up and be more adult(like). Because I believe that vulnerability and a need for comfort isn’t a weakness. I think the thing is, pretending that you’re invulnerable, and are want for nothing, that is weakness. And yet isn’t that what we’ve characterized what being “grown-up” is? Invulnerable. Strong. Independent. Self sufficient.
No need for help.
“I don’t need the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven needs ME.”
My daughter is growing older. But I don’t want her to grow up. Nor my son.
Because I’ve experienced what it is to be a grown ass man.
And I much prefer being childlike.
So what does it look like for YOU to allow yourself to become childlike?
Because I believe it means being vulnerable. It means knowing you’re just a kid. That there’s still SO much to experience. SO much to learn. SO much to discover.
It means not being so concerned with self. Not being self-conscious.
Maybe even to the point of being uncouth. Brazen.
Ultimately, to be childlike doesn’t mean to never leave Neverland.
To be childlike is to remember Neverland. To keep Neverland locked away in your heart, and treasured.
Because while Neverland isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps it’s a close representation of what the Kingdom is.
Throw away your pacifiers.
Only when the time comes.
But don’t ever think you’ve grown up beyond pacifiers.
Because you are not a Pirate. AND you are not a Grown-Up.
But you’re also not a Lost Child (a Lost Boy), because you’re not Lost. Even if this world tell you you are. Even if you sometimes believe it.
However…see and believe that you are still a child, nevertheless.
So act like it.
ACT LIKE A CHILD.