Early in January 2000 I went on a retreat day with a group from the church that I belong to. The day was not led or structured in any way, but simply provided some time and space for quiet reflection at the start of the new millennium. I decided that I’d not make any particular attempt to hear God through Bible reading or prayer, but rather take advantage of this rare opportunity simply to just “be”. I wandered around the grounds for a while, and then stopped alongside a small patch of land. There was, to be honest, nothing especially notable or attractive about the place. I seem to recall that it was more scrub than anything else, with a few trees and bushes and long grass and perhaps a small pond. But there I stopped and stood, and looked and listened, and tried simply to drink in the scene before me.
I should say this is not something that comes easily. I am not good at paying attention to all that is around me. I live perhaps too much of my life inside my head: so caught up in my thoughts that I miss the world outside – the world of the senses – seldom truly seeing or feeling or smelling or touching or tasting. But this was one of those rare occasions. As I fixed my gaze on the scene before me and attuned my ears to the sounds around me, so my mind became stilled in the stillness, and I became more and more present in that moment and in that place.
After a while the words of a poem began to form in my mind, and by the end of the day I had completed “As a Child”. Now I am not going to pretend that these are the greatest lines ever penned, but they do nonetheless capture the essence of what I was thinking and feeling at that time. Perhaps more importantly, they also capture something of what I believe to have been God’s word for me that day: the need for a more childlike approach to my life and faith.
A couple of years later I was asked to give a talk at church on the subject of “Life in the Kingdom”, looking at the events recounted in Matthew chapter 18. As I prepared the talk I found myself increasingly drawn to the first five verses of the passage, where Jesus speaks of the need for us to become like little children. I felt strongly this was an important and profound message that I had largely missed up until then. I could not recall it featuring too often in talks I had heard or in books I had read. Certainly I had barely begun to take on board the implications of Jesus’ words for my own life and faith.
I concluded the talk with the poem that I’d written on that retreat day a couple of years earlier. I remarked that it seemed that God had been speaking to me then about the need to become more childlike, and I wondered aloud whether I had paid proper attention to what he might have been saying.
I must confess, despite my strong sense of the importance of the message, in the years that followed I made little effort to pursue its implications or put these into practice in my life.
Then some years later, quite out of the blue, a friend asked me, “So, when will you be writing your book?” This was something I’d never seriously considered, and I immediately dismissed the idea. But later, pondering this unexpected enquiry, I remembered my talk – and it occurred to me that this was a subject that perhaps I might be able to explore further. At the very least, I would benefit from doing so: it would cause me to look again at Jesus’ call to childlikeness, and so give his words another chance to begin truly to change and transform my life. This little book is the result.
The book is based around those words of Jesus from Matthew 18, along with other passages that relate particularly to the place of children in the kingdom of heaven, and their relationship with their heavenly Father. Each chapter focuses on a single word from one of these passages, and explores what that word, that concept, that idea, might mean in the context of this call to childlikeness. What might it mean, for example, to humble ourselves like a little child or receive like a little child or pray like a little child? What might it mean to become like a little child?
I should say up front that this book is more about what childlikeness might look like, rather than how it might be attained. As such, you may find yourself wishing for some practical suggestions at the end of each chapter; frustrated, even, that I hold up the goal of childlikeness, then seemingly won’t tell you how to get there. But childlikeness is not something that can be attained simply by following some twelve step plan (an approach that appeals more to the adult we are than the child we seek to become). Rather, as Paul tells the church in Rome, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If this book in any way changes your thinking about childlikeness – to see it as important and believe it worth pursuing – then it will have fulfilled all my hopes.
I know full well that I have scarcely scratched the surface, barely begun to plumb the depths of what this call to childlikeness might mean. And certainly I can not claim to live an especially childlike life. Yet I am more convinced than ever of the importance of us heeding Jesus’ call: of the need for us to become like little children. I know, of course that this is not the whole picture: just one facet of our faith. Nonetheless, I truly believe that it is fundamental to us entering into all that God has for us, of living the life that he wants us to live, and of becoming the people that he wants us to be. I hope and pray that, having read this book, you too might feel encouraged to respond to this call to childlikeness, and to discover more and more of what it means for you to live your life “as a child”.