We have all heard about the art of manliness. But what about the art of becoming a child?
As a father of three boys I consider it my solemn duty to turn my three children into men. When you hear the word “men” in your head, hear it as if John Wayne or Clint Eastwood were saying it: low, gravelly, hard, menacing – Men.
Men, a word synonymous with strength and toughness, integrity and resolve, character and conviction, provision and protection. It is my job, my solemn duty, to teach my boys to put away childish things and to become men. And let’s face it, I have the Apostle Paul on my side.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”1
I’ve written a post about one of the ways I help my boys become men; here it is for those who are interested: A Rite of Passage
The Art Of Becoming A Child
Of course with all this talk of becoming a man and the art of manliness, we should also pause for a moment to consider the words of Christ. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”2
Christ Himself knew what it was to be a little child. He chose to enter this world not as a man, but as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Have you ever stopped for a moment the picture God as a child? It’s hard to imagine. In art God is most often portrayed as the Eternal One, an old man with a long flowing white beard. And yet, there is something childlike in the wonder of the creation account. God at play building in the mud, and the oft repeated refrain: it was good, it was good, it was very good!
It is in looking to Christ and His relationship with God the Father that we can see glimpses of what it is to, “become like children”. It is from Christ, the eternal Word, that we can learn the art of becoming a child.
A Child’s Trust In His Father Is Implicit
Have you ever wondered why a child’s sleep is so undisturbed? So peaceful? They sleep without a care in the world, because they know that they aren’t in control and don’t have to be. I remember long road trips in the old family station wagon when I was a child, with my dad sometimes driving all night to get us to our destination. Us kids would fall asleep unconcerned about the long miles and whether or not my dad would keep us on the road. My mom on the other hand would constantly jerk herself awake just to make sure my dad hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel!
Christ’s disciples once displayed a similar lack of trust asking themselves if perhaps God had fallen asleep at the wheel.
And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”3
Christ demonstrated to them His absolute and childlike faith in the Father. He didn’t sweat the small stuff (or the big stuff for that matter) – a lesson that he constantly sought to teach His followers. We live in a world of jaded skeptics and hardened cynics. Childlike trust is hard to come by in our day and age. But then again…so is deep and peaceful sleep.
A Child’s Reliance On His Father is Complete
That implicit trust also leads to complete reliance.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.4
Children by nature are dependent. At an early age it is quite literally true to say that a child can do nothing of his own accord. The child is utterly dependent for even their most basic functions. A child cannot feed himself, dress himself, or bathe himself.
Jesus accepts this utter childlike dependency as a forgone conclusion when it comes to His relationship with the Father. When He says, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord,” it is not false humility at work, but rather the simple acknowledgment of a child who is utterly reliant on his father. Complete and utter childlike reliance will bring humility to our lives while relieving us of the anxiety of having to pretend like we are in control.
“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”5
A Child Imitates His Father
Let’s look at the second half of the verse above again:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.6
Children are by nature imitators. As children we want nothing so much as to be like our dads. We want to be as big, as strong, and as smart as our fathers – mainly because we are convinced that our dad is the biggest, strongest, smartest guy on the planet! Christ encourages this childlike imitation in His disciples when he tells them, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”7 I know, it’s a tall order, but remember that childlike reliance above? The knowledge that we quite literally can do nothing on our own? It is only when relying on dad and carefully imitating him, that we gradually become like him.
A Child Wants To Make His Father Proud
In the fourteenth chapter of St. John’s gospel, Christ is recorded as saying two very interesting things. In verse thirteen we read, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;”8 and in verse twenty-eight He says, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.”9
Let’s start with the second one first. Children instinctively know that their fathers are “greater” than them, it’s why we imitate them! We want to grow up to be as big, strong, smart, funny, and tough as dad. St. Paul puts it this way, “So that we may no longer be children, …we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”10
But in trying to become like dad we also bring him glory! What father doesn’t look on with pride at his children’s academic or athletic accomplishments? As the father of the Pioneer Valley League defensive player of the year in football, and two younger boys who excel at cross country, I can tell you all about the swollen head that comes from being a proud papa!
Years spent trying to “build character” into our kids instantly become worthwhile when we hear from a friend, neighbor, family member, or co-worker how polite, respectful, honest, hardworking, or kind our children are.
And children instinctively want to please their fathers. They want their dad to be proud of them. Christ isn’t afraid to admit that He does what He does so that,“the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
It’s okay to want to make your papa proud!
“Then you will know… that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”11
A Child’s Obedience To His Father Is Unwavering
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”12
There are several things of note here. Again, Christ’s trust in His Father is implicit, “all things are possible to thee…” Also, we should take note of the great affection with which He prays to Abba, His daddy. But, what is perhaps most striking is His complete childlike submission to His Father’s authority. Not my will, but thy will.
What child isn’t intimately familiar with this reality? It is the parents who decide on the day’s activities and schedule. The parents who determine meal time, play time, bedtime, and what chores are to be done. Childhood is one long exercise in submission to authority – how is it that we become defiant so quickly upon becoming adults? How is it that we forget so quickly that our Father has our best interests in mind?
All too quickly in life we grow up and forget that dad can be trusted. Like rebellious teenagers we are sure that we know what is best for us and that we can handle anything that life can throw our way. We want to be our own men and forge our own way, and the only person we aim to please is ourself. But then the storms of life come and we quickly panic. We realize that maybe we don’t have all the answers and maybe dad really did know best. Maybe we realize that we are all alone on the stormy sea and the ship is going down and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Perhaps, if we listen carefully we can still hear the words of Christ whispered to us across the centuries, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”13
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