But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)
Caleb was a boy only a few feet in stature, but he had an awareness that added inches to his height. His joys in life were simple and exciting, but even so, in his eyes, everything was tainted. The whole of life was tainted by sin, and, disgusted at such a young age, he could not separate the modifier from the modified: in every speech, in every prayer, to him, it was not simply “the world” but instead a devastatingly “dirty world.”
I remember one Sunday when I taught on the burden of Abraham and the burden of Christ, I inquired about the burdens that my students were carrying. Admittedly, I had anticipated answers about video game frustrations and sibling rivalries. But that Sunday, Caleb broke in softly yet concernedly, his brows furrowed into a frown, “My burden is loving God, because I don’t know if I’m going to heaven or hell.”
I can still feel them now, the anger that rose into a storm and the sadness that was equally rending. His honest confession was the product of everything I hated about moralism and legalism and their vile presence in children’s ministries all over. I hated how children are the least considered among those who need saving, how time and again they are discounted on account of their cognitive limitations, how we are so quick to share the full gospel with the able mind but are content with throwing rags at children for modified behaviors, somehow believing that being a new creation precedes salvation or is its very equal. I saw the harmful effects, all right; he was standing right before me, and this child feared for his soul.
“Do you love Jesus?” I cried out twice, desperate for his salvation, desperate in my own recognized neediness for my Savior. “Yes,” he responded simply, to which I exclaimed, “Then, that’s it, because Jesus says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” His eyes reached into mine, and with a tone inflected with an upward swing of hope, he replied, “Really?” His fear was reassured.
I remember one Christmas season, we made a gingerbread New Jerusalem, and as I taught on Revelation 21-22—a new home where sighs will cease and tears will be no more because of Christ whom we will behold—Caleb broke in, “I want to be in heaven, not earth.”
My heart hurt. How could a child already despise the world? How could a child already want so much more? How could he know brokenness so intimately that he already desired what he could not see but only by faith had known? I so badly wanted to protect his childhood a little longer. I so badly wished blissful ignorance could remain with him a little more, that he might be happy and carefree like most children his age were.
But earthly wisdom betrays godly wisdom, because the goal is not to ignore or delay reality but to frame it well in the greater reality of Christ. If he could see brokenness, then, God-willing, he could see Christ, and that is the goal: hope in Christ who alone is his protector and joy.
I remember when I taught about the intercession of Christ and how it has made our prayers possible, my students inquired about the meaning and function of amen (verily, truly, let it be so), curious about our parents and grandparents who have used it before. And when I opened up in prayer two weeks later, saying, “God, thank you for Jesus,” Caleb broke in with confident hope, “Amen.”
I remember when he pulled me aside nonchalantly one day in between Sunday school activities to tell me some news. He had accepted Christ into his life, he was sure of it, and we got to share in our happiness together. And when I pressed questions on him to verify his faith, he stood his ground, asking, “Why don’t you believe that I do?”
I remember towards the end of my time in ministry, when I was wrapping up my 12-week series on the fruit of the Spirit, he came up to me asking for a full list of the fruit, but in my busyness, I forgot. He came back a week later asking for it once more, making sure this time he would have it to hang on his wall at home.
I remember being surprised that day by his hunger, wondering when he had become so mature. I lingered in the empty children’s room after service to reflect on this alone:
In a ministry where my mission was to defy the notion that there is an age limit to knowing Christ, a ministry so often reduced to babysitting, one that is rife with the filth of moralism and legalism, I was humbled to find that my own surprise at my student’s level of faith had betrayed my own convictions. I was thankful for the little ones who are not so little in the sight of God, for while I had known that his Son had died for them, I had forgotten that the resurrection power that exists in us as adults is the same resurrection life that dwells in them too.
Praise God through Jesus Christ for the little ones. “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:21 emphasis mine)