At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:1-4]
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I know these two little kids, 5 and 7, from a Christian home of two young-ish parents… (of course, almost EVERYONE looks “young-ish” to me these days… but anyway…) Good home, folks do youth ministry at their church when they can attend, though the dad has been having to work Sundays for much of the time lately.
Anyhow, these two very normal, boisterous, get-in-trouble-their-fair-share-of-the-time, loud, active, fun, kids found themselves at a McDonald’s Playland one day with their mom after a doctor’s appointment. (You know, those “Gerbil-Run-Pipe-Tunnel-Bounce-House” affairs set off with sound proof glass in some McDonald’s Restaurants?) This is a massive treat for those kids, and they were there in mid-afternoon, well between the lunch and dinner rush hours, so they had the whole room to themselves… almost.
Sitting on the padding near the “entrance” to the tunnels and slide, was a little boy about kindergarten age, just playing quietly with a couple of the plastic balls from the bounce house thing. He didn’t look at them, pay any attention to them, nor was he in their way as “Loud” and “Cheery” (we’ll call them) raced past him to jump into the equipment. “Timid” (we’ll call him) was just quietly playing on his own, despite his mother’s gentle attempts to encourage him to enter the equipment and play in the apparatus.
After a few minutes of racing through the maze at the top of their lungs, Loud and Cheery noticed that their playmate had not joined into the fun, despite his mother’s permission and urging. (This was fundamentally incomprehensible to them… how could ANYONE resist the allure of a McDonald’s Gerbil Run?) All through, they’d been careful not to bump into Timid as they reran the maze time and again, and didn’t even scream near him (rare for them, trust me on that).
So after a few minutes, Cheery (the 7-year old) approached Timid and said, “Hey, do you want to play with us?” (His mom nodded encouragingly to him, but he seemed unsure of himself). Then Cheery said, “You can DO this. Don’t be afraid. We’ll go with you if you want!” as she held out her hand to him, and her younger brother held out his, adding… “Yeah, we can DO this! Come on!”
Timid, bolstered by the companionship and encouragement, took their hands and dared his way into the maze, climbed the stairs, used the slide, and generally set about to have a very good time with Loud and Cheery. Eventually, after fatigue started to slow the pace a bit, my friend called a halt to the mayhem, and had Loud and Cheery come and sit for their Happy Meals. Timid headed off to his mom to eat as well. A few minutes later, all having caught their second wind, the kids all headed back into the maze for Round Two, and Timid’s mom came over to my friend’s table with tears in her eyes.
That mother came to say three things:
- Timid is autistic, and other children make fun of him or tend to go out of their way to frighten him.
- Therefore, they come at this “low-traffic” time, so that the youngster has a chance to play without anyone else around, but before today he had never entered in, though he enjoyed being here and sitting with those plastic balls.
- She had never seen children respond to him as Loud and Cheery had, and she wanted to thank my friend(s) for being the parent(s) they are… noting that the kids were extraordinary.
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Now, Loud and Cheery’s mom called and told me this story, not to brag… but to share a laugh over the Title of this Post. She received this praise from Timid’s mom with pleasure, of course (who ISN’T pleased when our kids’ behavior is praised?), but also with a bit of puzzlement. She thanked Timid’s mom, but added that she and her husband really weren’t “working at it” all that hard (in her view). It was more just a Golden Rule thing. Her kids didn’t like it when others teased them or made them feel small, so this was a “discouraged behavior” among their family. No big deal. But she received the comments graciously and the kids went on playing.
When it was time to go, she called over Loud and Cheery and thanked them for how nicely they had played with Timid. Timid’s mom had commented that they had been very kind, and that was a good and nice thing, and she thanked them for it. (She and her husband “try to catch them doing something right”, as Ken Blanchard says… not just when they do wrong.)
The 7 year old just acknowledged the thanks with a casual “OK, he was nice,” and continued putting on her shoes. But the 5 year old stopped as he had listened to her intently and a puzzled look seemed to come over his face as, very deliberately, he took her hand, looked at her (as if explaining something to someone slow-of-wit), and said… “But, Mom… That’s just what kids DO!” (Play nicely with other kids and have fun doing it.)
It about knocked her out of her chair as she laughed and hugged him. She said he was absolutely right, thank you, she wasn’t thinking… and he went on to put on his shoes, nodding with satisfaction at having cleared up this mystery for his mom. I also roared with laughter, knowing these kids and readily picturing Loud’s earnest intent expression as he taught this lesson. He can be very serious at times.
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As this episode echoed through my heart, two passages of scripture echoed with them. One I will discuss here now, and it’s quite simple. The other came more strongly later in another prayer time as the Lord brought this event back to my memory, and we’ll look at that in the next post.
But the Kingdom of God passage that surrounds “lest ye become as this little child” is a rich mine of varied and diverse nuggets of truth. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone preach, teach, or write the “definitive exposition” of Jesus’ teaching there. Certainly not I.
But this 5 year old, boisterous, normal, (somewhat hyperactive), little boy just so illustrated something I think Jesus meant right there. He didn’t do what he did because of what people would think. He didn’t do it to get an ice cream sundae with his Happy Meal. He didn’t do it for a story to tell in Sunday School. He didn’t do it out of duty or guilt.
He just did what he did because it seemed the “right thing to do”. He followed his sister’s lead, trusting her judgment. He gets afraid of things sometimes, too… and when she offers her hand and he takes it… he feels less afraid and he sometimes tries new things. That just made sense to him.
He saw a small fearful boy. He thought the boy might have more fun with them than without them. His sister offered support, he backed her up, they all had fun. Simple as that. No double clutch to it.
Kindness, faith, encouragement, trust… and an offer to trust them for the benefit of the other. A whole Sunday sermon in the affirmation of a simple 5 year old.
I’d like to be more like that…