“…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3,4
“…anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17
Bedtime these days consists of a pretty extensive routine: bath, books, then lullabies with back rubs. At the end of it, I turn on the hall light just outside my children’s room to remind them that Jesus is with them and to ward off the monsters.
Often, though, within minutes of my leaving the room, my four-year-old will slink out of bed, blinking and bleary-eyed, to say he’s scared.
When he did this the other night, I told him what I always tell him: “When you’re scared, just let the light remind you that Jesus is with you and watching over you;” this followed by a little prodding back to bed.
This strategy has usually worked. Not this night, though.
This night, when I say “Jesus is with you,” my son isn’t so easily persuaded. “No, he’s not,” comes the response.
“What do you mean?,” I ask.
“I don’t see him,” he says.
“Good point,” I am thinking to myself. “So what if ‘those who believe without seeing are blessed’ (John 20:29)? Most of the time, seeing is still believing. Didn’t Jesus say, afterall, that He brings ‘recovery of sight for the blind’ (Luke 4:18)? Can’t we ask Jesus for eyes of faith? Can’t we ask him to help us see him?”
So now I am kneeling next to my son on the bathroom floor. “Do you want to see Jesus?,” I ask. I am remembering similar invitations issued to me as a child. First at the age of four by missionary parents in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: I remember lying on my bed looking up at the geckos on the ceiling, wondering why I didn’t feel any different after inviting Jesus into my heart. I had followed directions to a tee, but nothing had happened. Nothing dramatic, that is. And I had wondered how it was that Jesus fit into my heart. Into such a small space like that. Wasn’t it claustrophobic?
Then there were the many more impassioned pleas that followed over the years. Emotion-laden appeals to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior. In Vacation Bible School. At camp. In the weekly Awana Club where I memorized and recited Bible verses in exchange for ribbons. At the campfire. Over the lulling sound of the guitar in worship. In the hush of teenaged heads bowed and eyes closed (at least partially), when by way of raising our hands we said “yes” to Jesus (or didn’t raise our hands for fear one of the other kids was peeking like we were).
And now my son wants to see Jesus. “Yes,” he says, when I ask him.
But how does one describe to a four-year-old what it means “to see” with the eyes of faith, I wonder. And now I am searching for the right words but bumping up against the limits of language. Maybe a bit like the many people who sought to introduce me to Jesus years ago. Parents. Youth group leaders. Sunday school teachers. Maybe their experience also got lost in translation.
“You can invite Jesus into your life,” I say. And then, “It’s going to take time, but more and more as you grow you’ll begin to see Jesus.” And as I say this, I am almost praying it for him- that he would see Jesus more and more.
“Sometimes you won’t see Jesus but other times you will,” I go on. “Like Lucy in ‘Prince Caspian.'” We had seen the movie a few weeks earlier. In it, Lucy, the youngest of the four children returning to Narnia for another adventure as “sons and daughters of Eve” and “kings and queens of Narnia,” is the first of the four to see Aslan; she alone catches fleeting glimpses which sustain her belief in the lion’s care, while her siblings remain in the dark and in disbelief for much of the movie.
“Remember how sometimes Lucy sees Aslan and other times she doesn’t?,” I ask.
“Uh huh.” Now my son is nodding his head. A light has turned on. He is smiling with recognition.
“It’s like that with Jesus. Sometimes we see Him and other times we don’t. But just because we don’t see Him doesn’t mean He’s not there. He is still there even when we can’t see Him.”
Now my son is smiling. The crinkles on his forehead have disappeared. He is heading back to bed.
“Mommy, is Jesus big?”
Pause. I am guessing that Jesus was probably no more than 5’6″ if that. (Most men in first-century Palestine would have been of average stature, right?)
“Yes,” I answer. “Jesus is very big.”
“Bigger than Daddy?,” my son is asking as he climbs the bunk bed ladder, then pulls the comforter up to his chin.
“Definitely bigger than Daddy!,” I exclaim, as I tuck him in one last time turning to go.
Maybe Jesus’ “bigness” is what I had missed in all of those “come to Jesus” moments. In my Kuala Lumpur bedroom staring at the geckos. In Awana Club and at church camp. Jesus had to be small to fit into my heart. And he had to fit just the way I was told he would fit- as if by some magic formula I could ask Jesus into my heart and he would appear, taking residence in my heart and never leaving.
But this Jesus wasn’t the big Jesus I as a child intuitively hoped for. He wasn’t a powerful, majestic beast with a breathtaking roar, untameable and free. He was too small for all that. “Inviting Jesus into your heart” often could just as well have been like saying the right, magic word to a genie in a bottle, and then voila, or poof- there this little Jesus was, a bit like the handle that you mechanically twist to make a jack-in-the-box jump. Always manipulable. Never unpredictable.
And isn’t it interesting that with time, as we become more “grown-up,” the Jesus we believe in can tend to shrink? So that he becomes more like garnish on our plate rather than the real food? So that the One whom the apostle Paul describes as “before all things” and in Whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) is little more than cheap, chintzy decoration on already full plates?
Yet Jesus is saying here that we need to become like children to enter the kingdom of God. Which could just as well be another way of saying that we need to remember that Jesus is big and that Jesus is everywhere- even as He is seated at the right hand of God. This Jesus is the One who contains all of the pain and glory of the world. This Jesus is the very “heart of the world” as the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, describes in his lyrical tribute to Christ.
Which means that we don’t have to carry Jesus with us: we don’t have to tuck him away near our left ventricle or hide Him under an aortic valve- as if the onus were on us to coax Jesus to stay around in our soul’s living room, as if Jesus’ presence ultimately depended on our words and actions.
And we don’t have to bring Jesus to people, either, as Rob Bell writes in Velvet Elvis. Why? Because Jesus is already there! He is there whether or not we see Him. All we really need to do is ask Jesus to give us eyes to see Him and then look for Him.
It’s a bit like my two-year-old daughter when she reads her favorite book, Curious George. On every page, there is always George, the mischievous monkey, into this and into that. George at the train station. George at the farm. George at the toy store. And when we read together, all my daughter does is point and exclaim, “George!” On literally every page she points and exclaims, “George!”
And that’s really all we need to do, too. When we see Jesus, we point. We point and we exclaim, “Jesus!” Like a child over her story book or in a make-believe place called “Narnia.” And chances are that the more we find ourselves doing this simplest of things, the more we’re pointing and exclaiming in wonder at all of the places Jesus shows up on the pages of our story, the more we’ll know that we’re in God’s kingdom. We’ll know we’re in that place where God is reconciling all created things in heaven and on earth to Himself (Colossians 1:20).