On Sunday mornings, the children in our church stay in service until mid-way through. Before they are dismissed, they are called forward where the pastor might say a word to them, pray for them, and send them away. The pastor also has a little pillar candle he hands to a random child each week to lead the rest of the children up to their room. It is one of those flameless candles. Do not fret that our pastor actually entrusts small children, i.e. my boys, to carry flames through the halls of our building (though it might make the congregation's prayers for them a little more fervent).
I have had to coach my children (a certain 6-yr-old child most especially) about not asking for the candle each week, nor asking for it for his little brother (sweet, but still selfish), nor running ahead of the other children who have a turn holding the candle, and basically not to talk at all. Each week, my child's behavior gives me a new suggestion to file away for next time. He has also informed me that he only waits behind the candle holder until they leave the sanctuary and that there is nothing I can do about that.
The church claims they have this practice in order to allow the children to observe and participate in church. Bringing them up front gives the children a central role within the church. While that sounds very nice, I am suspicious they do this just to keep all the parents of young children humble. I know I'd like to pretend that somehow I, like the mother Mary herself, have somehow managed to produce sinless offspring that radiate peace and otherworldly-wisdom when they are shoved together without their parents, center-stage. Instead, it's Lord of the Flies for five minutes every Sunday morning. I am also suspicious they do this to provide the older members of the congregation with a good laugh.
This week, after encouraging my sons to quietly stand up front and not say a thing (you might think quietly implies not saying anything, but I find it really helps to make my wishes very clear), they went quietly to the front and didn't even flinch when the candle was handed to another young boy near them. A small victory! Now, this small boy pipes up "and NO ONE can run in front of me!" It's always a relief when it's someone else's kid talking up front - even if they are referring to the bad behavior of your own child. In fact, I usually find the other children's comments cute. Somehow it's never cute when it's my kid.
Of course, my son immediately decides that because the silence rule has been broken by someone else he now has the go-ahead to speak, too, and loudly, "Well, I always like to be the first one to the classroom."
The pastors eyebrows dart up, amused, and he quickly redirects them to prayer and sends them away while yet another boy (praise God it wasn't mine) says, "whatever." Our pastor never knows what he is going to get with the predominance of young boys in the small children's group. He does a good job keeping the peace. His prayer afterward mentioned something, of course, about coming to the Lord as children.
I started thinking about that. What does it mean to come to the Lord as children? In my head, that verse always reads with a childhood picture of several, beautiful, smiling, well-groomed children running into the arms of Jesus for a hug. I think there are several small, clean, white sheep lounging around, too. But now I have children. Mine are rarely well-groomed. What does it mean that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these?
I thought about the boy who wanted to defend his position of leader. I thought of my boy who would unabashedly share with a room full of people that he always wants to be the first one into the classroom. In fact, he always wants to be the one to hold the candle. He always wants the first pick and he always wants the biggest cookie and the best toy and, and, and. This is also true of my other children (so much for my delusions of producing sinless offspring, huh?). I can tell you one thing about children, at least from my own experience, they always want the best and the first share of anything they deem as good.
Wait...children unabashedly want the best and first share of anything they deem as good. Hmmm...
Could this be what it means to come to the Lord as children? Perhaps that inherent selfishness is a good thing once the object of our longing is The Good Thing. Perhaps Kiekegaard was right that we ought to be infinitely interested in our own eternal happiness. Perhaps I could translate that as "unabashedly and selfishly interested in our own eternal happiness". Eternal happiness ought to be the thing we deem not only good, but best.
Of course, you and I know, my reader, that pursuing eternal happiness creates a lot of selflessness in this non-eternal realm. That being true, let us turn our inner-child eyes, which loom large when they see a good thing they want, toward the Kingdom of Heaven, and let us want to get there unabashedly. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who do.