I always find the week between Christmas and New Year’s to be a strange time of transition. The wonder and magic of Christmas quickly fades into lists of resolutions, promises, wishes, and goals for the upcoming year. To be honest, I don’t care much for the Christmas season as a whole. However, the thing I most anticipate about this season is that it serves as the one time each year adults give themselves permission to return to their childlike wonder of days gone by. Time is taken to gaze at twinkling lights, dozens of cookies are eaten by even the most devoted dieters, and songs are hummed while walking down office corridors. For one brief moment, Christmas invites adults to become like children again and the invitation is readily accepted.
As adults, we spend a lot of time trying to become more mature and competent but we spend very little time trying to become more childlike. As you read this you might be hearing me say “childish.” I am not. Even children don’t like other children who are childish. Being childlike is something altogether different. It is maintaining wonder, living with hope, keeping an open heart, believing when you can’t see, and so much more. Most importantly, it is the path by which we enter the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 18, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” These are some STRONG words. NEVER enter the Kingdom UNLESS you become like little children. For how important children seem to be to the Kingdom of God and how much emphasis Jesus put on becoming more like them, it’s interesting to me that this verse never came up in any of my evangelism classes at seminary. In fact, I don’t recall a time when this passage ever came up in ANY of my classes. This is sad to me because it only proves the point that I am trying to make in that we, as adults in the church (and the world for that matter), may be missing out on something pretty big. We need kids…not just to keep our genealogies going but because they are the key to becoming the adults that God made us to be and, according to Jesus, they are the ones who seem to be the experts on knowing how to enter the Kingdom. We like to think that kids need us, and they do, but we need them just as much. We just need each other in different ways.
I love children. As a teacher, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the way my students continually help me grow up. As I reprimand them for calling one another names, I
am reminded that my words impact the people I speak with everyday. As I teach them to share their crayons, I am prompted to think of how I can better share what I have been given with my neighbors. As I help them practice taking turns, I am faced with the reality that the world is not always about me. Working with children is like holding up a mirror that allows you to see every weakness, flaw and frailty but then tells you that you are still beautiful. No matter how awful of a day I have with my students and no matter how many times I yell at them, they always give me a hug before they get on the bus; yet another lesson in forgiveness and grace that I need. Sometimes, children have unusual ways of communicating, but if we take time to listen they are always ready to reveal some truth about our circumstances or ourselves that needs to be heard. Trust me, if you want to become a better adult, spend more time with children. Enter into their world. It may not always make sense, but it will most certainly bring you face to face with your own insecurities, fears, and inadequacies. Plus, there is nothing more humbling in life than to teach a child how to do something that you fail at regularly.
In addition to my love for children, I also love children’s literature. A good children’s story teaches us about life, how to live in the world we find ourselves in (and sometimes how not to), and helps us become better at being adults (if you think that is rubbish, read this article). Books for adults tend to be direct and to the point, there is rarely anything to pique our curiosity and there is usually a straight line from beginning to end. Children’s stories, however, meander and wander and reveal their purposes and lessons through pictures, prose, and hidden themes that require a bit of reflection and searching to mine out. As I reread many of my favorite childhood books as an adult, I am realizing that I am just now beginning to understand what the stories are really about. It’s funny to me how that works, but God’s kingdom certainly never has conformed to the ways things are done in this world.
So, in an effort to help each of you embrace the idea of becoming more like children in 2015, I am providing you with a list of my top 12 favorite children’s books. These books are listed in no particular order but they are all worth reading.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams – Becoming real is a long, painstaking process but once you have been made real by love you can never be anything but beautiful.
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak – We all feel like running away at times, and sometimes we do, but the most important thing is knowing that we can always come home again.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – Aslan summarizes this series best in this conversation with Lucy and Edmund from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
The Giver by Lois Lowry – It might seem like a colorless world where everyone is the same is a good theory, but there is so much joy that is missed when we diminish our uniqueness and diversity.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Everyone needs someone to love them at their ugliest and we all need a “secret” space to help us learn who we are and practice becoming.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – People are often so much more than they appear to be on the surface.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – We must never, never give up hope no matter how dark the darkness becomes for love will eventually conquer all.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss – Life has its ups and downs, but we are all intended for greatness no matter how big or small.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket – Sometimes life is sad and hard and despite all of our efforts there are seasons that just keep getting sadder and harder.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll – Things are not always as they seem and sometimes they are so bizarre we aren’t sure if we can even believe what we see with our eyes. But, believing was never really about seeing anyway.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum – On unexpected journeys we need unexpected friends. No matter how dark the road ahead may be, we can get through just about anything if we have friends to help us along the way.
Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst – We all have days that are just bad. The sooner we can accept this, the better our lives will be.
As you prepare to begin another year, go ahead and sign up for your gym membership, resolve to eat less desert and vow to save more money but, for the sake of the Kingdom, also add some kid time to your agenda (your own or borrowed will work). Read the stories that belong to children and perhaps along the way you’ll be surprised to find that you are being changed in ways you never imagined…. ways that are beautiful and new; full of wonder, curiosity and hope.
I pray that you are blessed with a child in your life this year to help you in your process of becoming so that we may all enter the Kingdom – together.