But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
As I walked into the room, I found my two-year-old daughter sitting on top of the washing machine. She was liberally applying a tube of lipstick, dug from out of my purse, to her tiny lips. With the now-ruined lipstick still in her small hand, her face registered a mix of guilt and fear upon realizing I caught her (literally) red-handed. I stifled the laughter that threatened to burst out of me. There was nothing else I could do in that moment except take a photo before giving a necessary but gentle reprimand.
But it wasn’t so easy to laugh at other childish incidents. Like when one son took scissors to his sibling’s hair. Or when the toddler climbed up on the dining room table to take some large bites out of a birthday cake meant for friends coming over for dinner that night. Then there was the time one of our children thought it was a good idea to use our kitchen wall as a canvas. And when an errant ball thrown in the living room broke one of my treasured lamps.
From Childish to Childlike
Childish incidents require a bit (or a lot) of extra grace as moms often bear the ugly results and damage that these incidents create. These moments require us to teach our children so they mature in wisdom.
But as we help our children grow up, we must remember the differences between deliberate rebellion, childishness, and childlikeness.
- Deliberate rebellion: when a child has willfully done what they have clearly been told not to
- Childishness: a normal part of a child’s life and growth
- Childlikeness: how Jesus describes the faith necessary to enter his kingdom
While Scripture repeatedly encourages us to turn from our rebellion and grow out of our childish ways, Jesus commends having childlike faith as something necessary for both salvation and growing in biblical maturity. Jesus teaches this concept to his disciples in Matthew 18:1–4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” So, while we teach our children to put away their childish ways, God wants to use our children to remind us of important characteristics that we need as maturing followers of Jesus.
Consider a few qualities that normally characterize children: humility, trust, wonder, delight in simple things. In a healthy home, children are so confident of their parent’s love and concern for them that their parent is the first place they run to when they feel hurt, afraid, or wronged or want to share their excitement. Parents often enjoy watching a child delight in things that their own senses became dull to long ago. Where we might see dandelions only as weeds to eliminate, a child sees a bouquet of flowers she hopes will bring a smile to her mom’s face. While falling leaves in our yard typically make us think of all the work we have ahead, children see the delight of jumping into a freshly raked pile.
Sadly, the world often encourages (even rewards) childish behavior while squashing a spirit of childlikeness. God’s Word, on the other hand, teaches us to cultivate both biblical maturity and a spirit of childlikeness—in our children and in ourselves!
What does this look like for a parent?
- We strive to appropriately discipline childish behaviors while nurturing the childlike qualities we see in our children.
- We seek God’s wisdom to help us discern the difference between childishness and a rebellious spirit in our children.
- We ask God to help us repent of any hardness of heart and cynicism in our lives. And we pray for the reality of the gospel to redeem the childlike qualities that Scripture commends.
- We ask God to use our children as instruments of grace to awaken in us what the hardships and cares of life dulled or distorted. And we repent of trusting and delighting in anything or anyone more than Christ.
Grace to Grow in Childlike Faith
One of the best ways for your children to learn what Christian maturity looks like is by watching you develop a growing trust in Jesus as God’s Word transforms you. And when you fall short (as you often will), by God’s grace, your kids will have a front-row seat to observe you humbly seek and accept forgiveness from God.
And one of the best ways for you to remember what Christian childlikeness looks like is by watching your children! If you have young kids, let them serve as a daily reminder of the kind of spirit that Jesus told his disciples is great in his kingdom: humility before him, trust in him, wonder about him, and delight in his simple and great gifts.
May God grow you in both biblical maturity and a childlike spirit of faith that is a worthy example for your children to follow.
Meet the Author
Linda Green is the coauthor of He Gives More Grace with her daughter, Sarah Walton. The thirty-day devotional offers biblical hope, encouragement, and wisdom for mothers. Linda is married to Ray and is a mother to three grown children.