What is it about little children that Jesus values so much? Enough to say that we should become like them in order to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven! So far I've talked about a child's imagination and adventurous spirit, their eagerness to learn and ask questions, their pure faith and ability to trust, and the fact that they find wonder in the ordinary. Now for the final four.
Kids are experts at laughing. Apparently children laugh more than 300 times a day, whereas adults laugh 20 times a day or less. How sad. Maybe children laugh more because they're in wonder more often. They laugh more because this is the first time they've heard that old-as-the-hills joke, or because they simply find simple things more funny. And they can probably laugh at themselves better than we can. We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter can actually make us feel happy, even if beforehand we were unhappy. It leads to a reduction of stress hormones and releases endorphins that even relieve physical pain. This must be why children seem happy more often than adults. So... laugh more. It's good for you! God is great and I'm convinced He has a great sense of humour. Yes, there is a time to be serious, but I believe Jesus wants us to lighten up sometimes. Have you noticed when you're in a difficult situation and sometimes you get that moment when you see a funny side, and you choose to laugh. One of the best feelings in the world.
Another thing children are really good at surprisingly, is forgiving. Usually. When I'm out on yard duty at school, so often little ones come up to me (I'm talking 5, 6, 7 year olds) with a grievance. 'She keeps chasing me'. 'He hit me'. 'He's not playing fair'. 'She said she didn't want to be my friend anymore'. Then my job becomes conflict resolver and I go ahead to try and sort out their problem. But many times, before I've even finished my big grown-up sensible speech about friendship, kindness and consideration for others, they've gotten bored and are skipping off together hand-in-hand to go and have a jolly time together for the rest of lunch – incident completely forgotten. I've learnt from this and now say to children, “You have a choice. You can stand here with me trying to get each other in trouble and prove that you're right and the other person is wrong, or you can enjoy the rest of lunch time playing with each other and having fun instead. All you need to do is say sorry and forgive each other.” It's as simple as that. And children do do it rather well! They have short memories when it comes to problems like this. They would just rather get on with playtime! And we can apply this to our lives and our problems too. 'Oh, but you don't know what my father was like.' 'My wife did the unforgivable'... Well, yes, we have deeper problems and it's all very complicated but... no. It actually is that simple. Forgive. Because the rest of lunch time will be much more enjoyable if you do.
Children are brutally honest. 'What's all those holes in your legs?' said a small child to their teacher. It was cellulite, but the teacher expertly changed the subject rather than answer them. 'This is my Grandma and she has grey hair,' said a small child to their teacher one morning. We probably shouldn't go out of our way to tell truths that may offend. Being adults, we have (or hopefully have) the wisdom to know which truths to say out loud and which ones not to, but you get my point. God loves truthfulness and hates dishonesty. The world is so straight forward and black and white to children. Sometimes I think we can complicate things that don't need to be complicated. This unbridled truthfulness children have comes from them having little or no inhibitions. They do what they like, whether it's dancing in the middle of the supermarket to the music playing over the speakers or going up to a stranger who looks sad and offering them one of their chocolates or just saying 'Are you okay?' Inhibitions are things we develop as we get older and they stop us from being free to be ourselves or show compassion or speak a truth into someone's life. What a horrible word: inhibitions. Perhaps one of these days they might just stop us from getting to heaven.
Finally, one of the things I love most about children, I mean really young children, is their ability to make friends like, super fast. Shove two children in a doctor's waiting room with a few toys in the corner and just watch. They are able to crawl or walk up to each other and start interacting and playing together. No matter what colour skin they have, what disabilities they have, what preferences they have in other matters. It's an innocent, pure, God-given longing for 'withness'. Innately we were created to be with others. But as we grow up, we become shy, worried, anxious, inhibited and stuck in our comfort zone. Children have no problem connecting with others. In a room full of people at a party, children will seek each other out and are drawn together as if by magnets, and in no time at all, they are running around with their shoes off getting sweaty and falling over and generally having a better time than anyone else there, laughing, screaming with excitement and joy.
Joy. That's what it comes down to. Children know instinctively how to experience joy through all these ways mentioned. It's innocent, uninhibited, unashamed and it's the pathway to heaven. Jesus identified with children. Although He knew full well what a mess life can be, He also knew that it always comes down to the simple things. Things children understand. We need to change and become like little children in our thinking, our attitudes, our views of the world and the people around us. To believe Him and accept without hesitation that He died for you. To follow Him at the drop of a hat, go out uninhibited and enjoy the adventure!