My husband and I had developed a habit of reading the Gospels together and, by taking literally what we had read, tried to shape our lives accordingly. One day—this is more than twenty years ago, now—we came to the passage, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” This word had not been completely new to us, but obviously we had never before tried to take this literally. Somewhat puzzled, we looked at each other. Just exactly what does He mean? How can one grow down after one has grown up once?
“Isn’t it funny,” said my husband. “All I can remember from my childhood days is this: In kindergarten they told me I’m not a baby anymore, I’m going to be a big boy. In grade school, they said I wasn’t in kindergarten anymore, and I was going to be a big boy. In high school, they reminded me that I was not one of the little ones from grade school, but a real big boy. And after all this encouragement, the “big boy” takes the Gospels which say that big boys don’t go to heaven, only little ones. Now, what does He mean?”
The one thing we decided on that day was that this passage definitely could not have referred to the outside appearance, such as size. It must have meant the mentality, the inner makeup of a child. With a house full of children growing up around us, we resolved to make it a special study, to go into real research work on how to become like little children.
Very soon, we found out some intrinsic differences between the minds of the average grownup and the minds of little ones. What struck us most was the discovery that a child has no past, and no future. It only lives in the present moment but, this, wholeheartedly. Just by watching our babies, we found if they ate, they ate; if they slept, they slept; if they played, they played. And whatever they did, they did with their whole heart, with their whole little being.
Not so, a grownup. While he’s doing one thing, he’s worrying idle about the past: Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I say that? Or about the future: And how will it go next month, next year? What am I going to do if this and this should happen? Slowly it dawned on us that only a childlike soul can fulfill the first and foremost commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with a whole heart and with a whole soul and with a whole mind.” Because the grownup has forgotten how to be wholehearted about anything; while he does one thing, he cares already about another. He is truly a split personality.
Years went by. Watching our seven girls and three boys, we learned much from them. With a grateful heart we had read, “Unless you become like little children.” This allows for time. We didn’t know then that it would mean a whole life’s program, to unlearn, to grow down. This life’s philosophy prompts you to be simple and direct. It keeps you away from all sophistication. But most of all, it teaches you to live now, at this present moment, and do what this present moment asks of you. That means the end of all worrying. It also means the beginning of never-ending happiness.
This I believe. If we become like little children, in the sense that Christ meant it, we should once more turn this valley of tears into paradise.