Have you ever watched a movie that so impacted you that you were compelled to watch it? One that the more you watched it, the more excited you became so that by the end of it you knew you must watch it again, you must own it? Maybe you even began to note certain lines because it was so important to you? The film,Mr. Magorian’s Wonder Emporium was just that film for me. From the very first line I was hooked.
At the very beginning of the film, the character Eric is narrating and he says something that is so profound that it made me not only sit up and listen, but I made my children back up the DVD so I could write it down: “I don’t know why grown-ups don’t believe what they did when they were kids. Aren’t they supposed to be smarter?”
That one line set the tone for the rest of the movie and kept me literally so enthralled I could not take my eyes and ears off the screen. That one line personifies what it means to have child-like faith. To believe because that is just what you do, because there is no other option.
For one year I was a youth group sponsor. That year taught me many things, but most importantly it taught me that I am not a good youth group sponsor. My problem is that I think teenagers should be more responsible than 5 year olds, because they are older and supposedly more mature.
I also learned that it is almost too late to build a spiritual foundation if we wait until our children are teenagers (and I say almost only because someone out there will tell me of their own conversion in teenage years, even though I would probably guess they had some spiritual foundation as a young child). By the time we are teenagers, we have been too jaded by the world. By the time we are teenagers and if we haven’t had a spiritual upbringing, we have had all of our spiritual knowledge taken away by our culture, education, the media, and whatever else may be out there.
One night we had a discussion on whether or not we are born with a negative outlook on life (these particular teens loved to have these deep discussions). This one young man was convinced that we are all born with this negative outlook. I felt so sorry for him. In all my work with young children in many different situations and communities, I have never come across a young child who was unhappy all the time. Many young children are forced to deal with very negative situations in their own life, and many do deal with them in ways adults might term negative, but each child has as an underlying grounding of a positive nature. They laugh at silly knock-knock jokes that don’t make sense. They smile when they run, just because they can run. The world is beautiful and full of wonder. And this, in its essence, is child-like faith. It is the knowledge that everything is good just because God said it was.
What does it mean to have child-like faith? What does Jesus mean when he says we must have the faith of a little child in order to get into heaven? Doesn’t Paul then contradict this in I Corinthians when he speaks of “putting away childish things”? Paul doesn’t contradict, because being child-like and childish are two different things. One is enviable, and one is immature. Many would define child-like faith as a kind of benign, blind faith, a fatalistic one even. One that says, “Well, I guess this is just what Jesus wants or would do.” But that isn’t child-like at all. In fact, that is childish faith, faith that doesn’t last when the going gets tough.
Child-like faith is something totally different. It is seeing beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary, a wonder in the common things, finding the supernatural in the natural. It is playing with the box more than with the toy that was once contained in it. It is a trust that is so natural that to not trust is incomprehensible. It is a faith that believes because that is the only natural course of action. It is a faith that says, like Peter, “Lord, where else could I go?”
One year at the child care centre I worked at (a secular centre), there was a big discussion on how people got here. Some said people were always here, some genuinely didn’t have a clue. Because I like to see where children’s thoughts are headed, I stayed out of the conversation and just listened. One wise young man spoke up with very good authority.
“Listen,” he said. “I know how people got here.” All of the other children were silent. “God made a man and a woman. They had babies, and then those babies grew up and had babies, and so on. That is how we got here.” The rest of the children were very satisfied with that answer and that pretty much ended the discussion. The voice of authority had spoken and all were satisfied. I, myself, was very impressed. So I mentioned it to his mother. Her response is one that I will always remember, because it solidified what I have always believed about the spiritual growth of young children. She said, “Not too bad for a kid who’s never been to church in his life.”
Notice there was no talk of Darwin or evolution in any of this conversation. No one brought it up. Why? Because evolution presupposes that we are born a blank slate, knowing nothing. We are all a product of random chance. But because we do know things from birth, because God has given us a seed of knowledge of him, this young five year old child could tell the truth with confidence. God made us. It’s a fact. There was no room for discussion of this, and no one contradicted him because they, too, knew he was right.
My little dollar store purchase of a Webster’s English Dictionary Concise Edition for school, home and office (1999- reprinted in 2002- Geddes and Gosset, New Lanark ML11 9DJ Scotland) defines “wonder” as, “a feeling of surprise or astonishment; something that excites with such a feeling; to feel wonder; to be curious; to speculate, to marvel.”
And that is what we have allowed ourselves to loose as adults. We loose that sense of wonder because we have too many more important things to do. We don’t look at the rainbows anymore, or smell the roses. When we sing in the worship service that is all we do, sing, we don’t feel it. We wish we could, we say each year that this is the year we will slow down, but really, we continue in that rushed way we have.
My family often makes fun of me because I insist on singing loudly, if sometimes off key. I even mess up the words sometimes. And I respond, “Maybe if everyone were as excited about Jesus’ conquering death, you wouldn’t hear me sing at all because they would singing louder.” Not that I am more holy or religious than anyone else, but I have chosen to take the time to wonder that God, who made the universe just by saying it was so, cares about me and you and everyone else in this world. I have chosen to try to regain that child-like faith. Sunday is now my favourite day of the week.