Are You Brave Enough To Be Childlike?
If you want to see me, Christy Fitzwater, in the place where I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most joyful, and most authentic, then you’re going to have to sit in on my Wednesday night class when I teach children the Bible.
I’ve been trying to dissect why that half an hour with third and fourth graders feels so homey to me. Why do I leave feeling like, “These are my people.” Why do I walk in tired and walk out energized and so very alive and grinning? The Lord has been answering this question for me, and it’s an answer that has meaning for all of us.
Let me take you first to my high school Spanish classroom, where I sometimes feel awkward and weird and uncomfortable in my own skin –pretty much the way I felt most of the time when I was actually in high school.
Out of place.
Here’s the thing. I love God and the Bible. I mean, I love God the way a third grader loves a slip-n-slide and a dripping ice cream cone and the Tilt-A-Whirl.
I’m talking about something physical. Something that makes you laugh out loud and smile all the way from your mouth to your eyes. Something that leads to a whistle and a bounce in the step. Pure happiness.
Delight is the quality children have and the quality that starts to get squooshed down inside of us when we start to mature and be all grown up. Grownups don’t act delighted, because that’s not grown up. The teenage years are the worst, however, because you want your behavior to match what everyone else is doing, and everyone else is squooshing down delight and acting cool. And in my high school classroom sometimes I fall back into that old habit.
Jesus has something to say about this, and it’s super challenging and really, really uncomfortable. People were bringing kids to him, but the disciples were all, “Kids aren’t cool and grown up and mature. Get them outta here.” Jesus got hoppin’ mad and was all, “Stop it! You let those kids come over here right now, because they’re the only ones who get my kingdom. In fact, you’d better start getting me the way they get me or you’re not welcome in my kingdom.” (Mark 10:13-16 highly paraphrased by me.)
Kids know how to enjoy something good, with no shame or self-consciousness.
Kids skip around singing. (When, may I ask, do we stop doing that?)
Kids shout their pleasure out loud. (“Santa!”)
So when I go to AWANA, I get to talk about God and his word for a half an hour, and the more animated I am, as I enjoy the words myself, the more the kids get animated with me. They’re kids and I get to be a kid. It’s so free and wonderful and pretty much what I think heaven is going to feel like.
You know what I’ve been praying all summer? Dear Jesus, please help me be my childlike, AWANA self with my high schoolers. Help me to leave cool behind and just enjoy you, without apology and with abandon.
Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, says, “Do not use your face and body to hide your spiritual reality.”
Oh yeah, you know we do that. We get all grown up and start masking our joy in Christ with our cool exterior. But I did hear Jesus correctly, didn’t I? Unless we’re childlike in our faith, we’re not getting into his kingdom.
You know where it’s the hardest for me to enjoy God with childlike expression, though? Harder than a high school classroom? In big-people worship at church.
Oh my word, the other day we sang this new song about the fiery furnace and how there was another in the fire, and I did it. I clapped after I sang that truth, with 100% childlike reception of how awesome the story was. And then, in the next second right after that, I was mortified at myself.
Weirdo! Not cool. Not adult. Not dignified. I was mentally looking around the room hoping nobody heard my outburst of amazement in that old Bible story. Then I thought, Get over yourself, woman. God loves your young-hearted delight. But man was it awkward and oh how hard it is to be childlike if you’re worried about not fitting in with the adults.
So I pray, Lord, help us be kids in our hearts.
A simple question: When was the last time you reacted to God’s super-amazing awesomeness with childlike abandon? And then how can you bring that kind of faith and response into your all-day adult life?
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(2nd 1/2 of comment): And, funny thing, this is also the reason I love serving as a pastor – particularly, the preaching. I mostly just tell Bible stories. Without seminary or even a religion degree, (but not opposed to either), what I’ve got is the years and years of listening to The Bible In Living Sound – cassette tapes and vinyl records. It’s the living, earthy story of Jesus and the people who followed Him before and after in the Bible timeline. Today, kids can still listen on mp3 or CD to those same recordings, but my kids also enjoy The Bible Project with its visual element along with the narrator’s voice. More of a 30-60k foot level view. The wonder of the story; the childlike joy of discovering God right next to us and how friendly and approachable He is.
So this is my long Thank You. Your post today has taken us both back to the joy. And it couldn’t be better timing, since today is our anniversary. 26 years. Thanks! God bless you and Matt and your kids.
Pastor Mark, you have totally made my day! Thank you for the encouragement that your wife has been a reader for years. (She is patient to stick with me for so long, through all of the ups and downs.) My husband is also a second-career pastor. He has a masters in psychology, but after 10 years working in the mental health field, God called him to be an an associate pastor at our church, and now he’s an amazing preacher. He always says that as a preacher he doesn’t look very good on paper. 🙂 Give your wife a huge hug for me and tell her I’m giving her a huge cheer from Montana. Teaching and shepherding tender souls is always hard and always worth it. Happy anniversary to you! Thanks again for taking the time to write such a kind note. It means a lot to me.
So my wife has been reading your posts eagerly – soon as they come out and wishing for another in between – for several years. (From two different locations in Missouri and now in greater Olympia, Washington.) She’s so lucky(!) to be married to a second career pastor and to be an elementary teacher herself by profession. She’s heading back into the classroom this fall after being out for 20 years–and feeling overwhelmed – wondering why she ever agreed to the challenge. But then she read your post this morning and it all made sense. Like you, she finds her joy with those kids – the 3rd-4th graders – and she gets the 5th grade too since it’s a small 3-teacher school. No one likes the grumpy parents and the snarky politics, but the kids and those glorious moments of innocence are the reason for this plunge back into the insanity of teaching at a local church school…
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