Being Like Little Children

Author: Larry Dansky


When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. Corinthians 13:11


At this time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?’ So He called a little child to Him whom He set among them. Then He said, ‘In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18: 1-4


I’m confused. Which is it? Do I put the ways of childhood behind me, or do I change and become like a little child? It seemed to me that these biblical verses were contradictory, recommending two very different paths to be followed. Then one of my morning meditations got me to thinking and helped me realize that the two approaches are not incompatible. I learned that I need to be childlike, but not childish.


It’s easy to think about how to put the ways of childhood behind me (not being childish). Children have temper tantrums and pout when they are asked to do things they don’t want to do. Teenagers seem to argue with anyone they disagree with (especially their parents). These are obviously some of the behaviors we could put behind us as we mature. I cringe when I see adults acting this way, and even worse I’m embarrassed when I act this way myself. So I understand fully what Paul is saying in his letter to the Corinthians.


But what is Jesus talking about when he tells us to change and become like little children? Do you remember the movie “Hook”? Peter Pan (played by Robin Williams) has grown up to be a conservative corporate businessman. To save his children, he has to return to Neverland, but finds it very difficult to regain childlike values and embrace his old identity as a Lost Boy. I believe Jesus’ words are asking us to resurrect some of the wonderful qualities of childhood that we have lost as we’ve aged. Trust is one of them. It’s understandable that we lose trust when we’ve been hurt by others, but too often that leads to us being way too cynical. The same can be said of joy. With pandemics, wars, inflation, politics, etc., it’s easy to become so cynical that we lose sight of the joy in life. But the childlike quality I most want to cultivate is a sense of curiosity and wonder. With age and experience, we often think we’ve seen it all, and all too often we think we know it all. Wouldn’t it be great to re-acquire the natural curiosity of children and again wonder “what if?”. In Zen, this is called having a Beginner’s Mind. A beginner starts with a blank slate and is open to learn. If we were able to develop this Beginner’s Mind, wouldn’t we be more open to new ideas, different people, and other ways of doing things?


There are still times when I get discouraged and cynical about the events of the day, and too often I find that I’m not open to new ways of looking at issues. When I need to be reminded to “change and become like little children”, I find encouragement in the words and the magic of Peter Pan’s sidekick Tinker Bell. “All you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust”.


Holy one, I ask for help as I work on being childlike, to once again be curious, trusting and full of wonder and joy. 


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