What does it mean to be like a little child?

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
– Jesus, Luke 18:17

For most of my life, this notion that we had to be like little kids in order to enter into the kingdom of God didn't make much sense to me. I was a brat when I was a kid. I also wasn't very smart. And so much of the rest of Scripture has to do with maturing as a human being. So, why tell me to be a kid?

Firstly, I should clarify that Jesus is not talking about eternal life or eternal damnation. Whenever Jesus addresses the Kingdom of God or Heaven, we like to immediately turn it into a life-after-death statement. Nowhere here does Jesus say anything about death and only a few verses earlier he specifies in Luke 17:21, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” So, his child-like statement is not a how-to-get-into-heaven-for-dummies statement. He is saying something more. Something deeper. For as long as I can remember, it's only been a confusing thought for me, until last night.

"It would mean," Evelyn Underhill writes, "that we should receive from every flower, not merely a beautiful image to which the label 'flower' has been affixed, but the full impact of its unimaginable beauty and wonder, the direct sensation of life having communion with life." 

Adults either have or strive to have everything 'figured out'. We have a syllabic simplification for everything. We no longer see the wonder or mystery in people, places, or things, but only the category in which they belong:

  • A wife is no longer a human being with a story and unique soul unto herself, but now just a wife. She is to act and behave accordingly or it upsets things and one of us might leave.
  • A home is no longer an amazing gift and privilege of comfort and safety, but now just a financial opportunity, responsibility, and entitlement.
  • A flower is no longer an amazing expression of light, soil, water, and a tiny seed converging into vibrant tangible color and fragrance, but now just a 'flower'.

If that is how we look at neighbors, places, and things is there really any possibility of our seeing God in any kind of true light or relationship?

Kids look closely at things. Awkwardly and unashamedly. Fearlessly in curiosity and wonder.

A child doesn't have the syllabic simplifications or compartmentalizations that we've been taught to have. Each experience is unique, unto its own, and ripe for being imaginatively explored. That perspective and approach of life is far closer to the truest Reality of things than what we've complicated it into appearing.

We pretend to know what people, circumstances, and things are at the very outset of encountering them and begin building emotional constructs around them to support our initial opinions. This ultimately comes tumbling down one way or another, leaving us devastated and placing blame on the person, place, or thing.

We are not able to "enter the Kingdom of God within," when we think we have a grasp on what things are before first exploring them and are not open to wonder, mystery, and humility. We have to see the absolute wonder in life if we are to be able to see the Absolute Wonder In Life. People are not just people. Places are not just places. Things are not just things. You are not just you.

I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.
– Jesus, John 9:39