The Gospel reading for this past Sunday was from Matthew, chapter 18, when the disciples asked Jesus “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replies by calling a child over to him and He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I love this reminder and oh, how I need to keep it in front of me daily.
The prevailing message in our society is self-determination. We are encouraged to strive hard, be productive, and generally make our way in the world. Jesus’s message couldn’t be more different. His definition of greatness is the opposite of what the world tells us. The child who is humble, meek, and readily surrenders to the care and guidance of their Father in heaven, that one is the greatest.
I don’t know about you, but this message brings me such relief! It tells me: “Stop striving, Kels! Stop trying to live up to the expectations of this world. Stop needing things to go a certain way so you can feel comfortable and in control. Stop measuring your worth through productivity, wealth, or accomplishments.”
Instead, look around you, be present in the moment, what are you called to do right now? Try praying for guidance. Try resting and waiting for God’s timing to be fulfilled. Be humble and surrender. God knows what’s best and he’ll let you in on his plan for your life a little bit at a time. You don’t get to see the whole picture. You don’t know what’s best. But, your Father in heaven does. Stop. Rest.
As a parent actively raising young children, this imagery of childhood and submitting to the guidance of loving parents is particularly meaningful. Just last night, I had the opportunity to pray for wisdom, stay present, and help my son through a challenging moment. Teo was sitting at the dining table and making a consistent, annoying noise. After asking him to stop a few times, I decided to put music on in the kitchen to divert his attention. He didn’t react well to the music coming on.
“I don’t like this music!” he complained as Frank Sinatra’s crooning filled the room. I explained that this was mommy’s time for cooking and listening to music, so I wasn’t going to change it. He continued to throw quite a fit. I let him cry and yell for a few minutes, then tried to reason with him again. He calmed a bit, but then came into the kitchen complaining again, “Turn this off, I don’t like it.”
The Nat King Cole song “L-O-V-E” was just starting. Without any forethought, I scooped Teo up in my arms (which is getting harder and harder to do!) and started dancing with him in the kitchen. He instantly relaxed and put his head on my shoulder as I sang along:
L is for the way you look at me
O is for the only one I see
V is very, very extraordinary
E is even more than anyone that you adore
And love is all that I can give to you
Love is more than just a game for two
Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you
As the song came to an end, I silently prayed: “Thank you for that moment, Lord.” Then I kissed Teo on the cheek as I put him down. Within a few minutes he grabbed his glove and baseball to practice pop-flys in the backyard while dinner finished cooking.
When I think of the way that God lovingly guides and cares for us, despite our persistent sin, pridefulness, and general disregard for his direction, I’m inspired to love my children unconditionally. Children are often sent the message that they will be loved when they obey their parents or other authority figures. Being a “good girl” or “good boy” and being praised for those traits leads to many “people pleasers” and “approval addicts”. What if we allowed our children to feel their emotions, express them, assert their will, and have their own perspectives? Then, we can teach, guide, and coach them with loving support and big doses of hugs and love. What if we tried to model God’s grace for us in the way we parent our children?