There was a look of defiance in those round blue eyes. Something in the trot of his steps that said “humph! I’m done here! Take me home! I hate walking! I hate life!”. There was a perturbed curl in his lip, that can only be found in a four year old who is inches away from throwing a fit. For that is what he was.
Joel and I chucked compassionately as we strolled behind father and son on their (and our) afternoon walk. We had been discussing everything from cabbages to kings, and enjoying the Colorado sunshine to its fullest until we ran into this little bit of human drama. An epic encounter! A conflict of wills! A tired four year old…
Seeing as Joel has long legs, and I don’t like to be beaten, we had been walking rather fast, and thus had been catching up to father and son over a period of a few minutes. At a distance, we could hear a bit of unintelligible whining and a patient voice saying “we’re almost there, scout. Just hold on.” On closer inspection, we discovered “scout” was kicking rocks in an agitated way, and knitting his brows so close together that he looked like one of those split screens that smushes your face together.
The Father slowed his pace. Son was still not satisfied.
The Father said something kindly but firmly. A siren-esque squeal came hurtling forth from the disconsolate tot.
The Father stopped, stooped to his level, and corrected the squeal. Paused a moment. And stood again, calm but resolute. Scout stared right at his father’s ear. The father began to walk. Scout did not.
And here… the human drama reaches its climax.
Two year old melts to the ground, clutching wildly at the Father’s hand, letting out a sounds something similar to a thousands cats dying. The effect looking as though the Father was dragging his screaming child along the gravel, a harsh driving master with no consideration for four-year-old-ness.
The Father stopped, reached to pick up the child. The child thrashed and hit his Father right on the nose. Scout continued screaming and thrashing and generally making a scene.
At this point, I began feeling guilty for being an onlooker. We were about 10 feet behind now, and were about to overtake them. I watched as the Father knelt and held his sons hands fast in his so that he couldn’t hit. I had seen this scene a million times. The Father was surely about to lash out at his child, and show that the both of them needed anger management help. I looked at my toes a bit ashamed of watching.
To my surprise, while examining my big left toe, I didn’t hear any signs of harshness. The squeals stopped. I looked up.
“I’m sorry Daddy.”
“That’s okay. Come here.”
The Father scooped the previously screaming child into his arms. The little one snuggled his head into his fathers shoulder letting out that final halting breath that means the end of a good cry, and then set his head oh his Father’s shoulder. As His Father walked away, the little boy looked back at me and my brother. Tears still shining on his pink face… But the defiance was gone. He looked me in the eye, and then laid his head to the side, and rested. Right where he belonged.
The whole ordeal had an unexpected effect on me. As I looked at the little boy, draped comfortably over his father, conflict done, forgiveness given, I thought of this…
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
I had never really understood this verse, and it frankly always kind of stressed me out. How? How does one become like a child? But as I watched my little human drama. I understood.
As I watched little Scout (or whatever his name was), I saw myself and God. God is gentle and good, and walks beside me, holding my hand and guiding me. In repayment, I kick. I scream. I hit. I whine. I say “whyyy God, why??”. And just like the Father, God is patient. He looks me in the eyes and says “almost there. hold on just a little longer”.
But… here’s the difference between me and little scout. When it comes to the discipline, when God has to convict me or tell me to stop, I do. But then, I back track. I say “God! I’m sorry! I’ll do better! I’ll make a holy to do list! I can make it! I’ll make myself worthy of you holding me!”. I certainly don’t climb right back in His arms.
I think this is the defining thing about children. They know where they belong. No matter how big the fit, how sever the consequences, no matter how angry they were… They always know where they belong. Snuggled into the shoulder of their parent. Children don’t fear their parents will stop loving them. Children don’t try to re-earn their right in the arms of their parent. They are not prideful. They say they’re sorry… and then…They know exactly where they belong.
To be like a child, we have to know where we belong. God is a good Father, always willing to stoop to our level and pick us up out of our sin, as long as we say “Sorry, God.”
To be a child is to be humble. To know that you really have nothing to do with God’s love for you. He loves YOU, just because you are HIS. He wants to be close to you. Trying to fix yourself is cocky and stupid.
Imagine if after the ordeal, little scout had looked at his Father and said “I’m sorry Dad. I see I have done wrong, let me fix myself so that you can love me again.” That is not how it works. To get into the Kingdom, we must be humble, be sorry, but know where we belong. That is what it means to be like a child.
But perhaps Paul puts it better than me, in Romans 8.
“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but youhave received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Christ has adopted you! You belong in His arms.