I, not unlike Taylor Swift, was born in 1989. I am a 30-something, work a full-time job, and do boring grown-up things like pay bills and say things like, “I really need to go get my oil changed.” When I was a child, I was imaginative and built a play post office in my room that no one came to (because why would they mail something from a pretend post office?) and I had the occasional imaginary friend. I spent my afternoons and weekends pretending, playing Nintendo, and riding bikes around a local church’s giant parking lot with the neighborhood boys.
But one day, I just…grew up. I stopped imagining so much and hopping around so much and laughing so hard and yelling with excitement. And like all of us… I changed. And that’s a good thing! It’s fine to mature, slow down, and settle in a bit. But the other day, I was at a church retreat and I was greeted by a 3-year-old in a wool dress, who grabbed her hem and very joyfully announced to me, “This dress is made of SHEEP.”
Something in me clicked back to that childlike joy and I said to her, “Really??”
She smiled and said, “YES.”
This was big news. This was good news. This was fun news. And we talked about how neat it is that a sheep has wool and we can turn it into things like her purple dress.
I don’t have conversations like that with my friends in small group. I know that wool exists, but I don’t go telling people how it’s made. To children, everything is interesting and everything has a bigger headline.
You can make a dress out of sheep!
The moon is in the sky at night!
If you push a button, you can take a photo!
As the church retreat went on, I noticed this little pack of children running around, throwing themselves into every activity they did, endlessly showing off their friendship bracelets. One boy spent the weekend running, lying down on the ground, and whispering, “Safe!” because he was a baseball player. Another boy was so eager to see my flying drone that he had to be held back so he wouldn’t try to grab it as it hovered near the ground.
There was no formal childcare at the retreat. Instead, we took turns looking after the kids, making sure they didn’t escape the dining hall, and asking if anyone needed help. One father who was there with his two kids held a crying two-year-old. We asked, “What do you need?”
“It would make my life a LOT easier if someone would refill the hot water so he can have some hot chocolate.”
So we went to the kitchen staff and we got some water and we brought back a mug of hot chocolate and it resolved the big feelings of a previously upset toddler.
I believe that children’s church is a fine thing and ministry events geared toward kids are a gift. But as adults, we often miss out when we don’t put ourselves in the midst of our youngest congregants. We forget that we were once children, running around and spreading the news about every little thing. After all, Jesus says He wants us to come to Him like children.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:1-3 (ESV)
Become like children. Uninhibited. Free. Not holding back or wondering what people will think.
On the last morning of the retreat, a young adult named Danner stood near the table where kids were doing crafts and he said, “I want to help with the kids but I never know what to say to them.”
“I find that if I just ask them basic questions, they’re good to go,” I offered.
Just in front of us, the Sheep Dress Gal was trying to glue wings on a puppet. I leaned over and said, “What do you need?”
“I need help with this chicken,” she said so simply.
“Okay, great. Mr. Danner is going to help you.”
I waved him over and watched as he held a glue stick and then used his bigger hands to press the felt together, offering the simplest support. And I wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he invited us to be childlike. Perhaps we’ve been invited to not overthink and just slow down and ask questions. To notice the very obvious and celebrate the very ordinary. To delight in others and in little wonders. To kneel down and offer a hand.
Because the Kingdom is for all of us, even those who can’t quite read or pay bills or get the oil changed, and when we invite their joy and wonder and delight, we see the Kingdom better.