Become Like Little Children

This article is part of a series at Humble Orthodoxy on the image of God.

By Joan Wagner

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus

(Matt 18:3)

These words of Jesus have always intrigued me– exactly what did he value so highly in little children? And in the next chapter, Jesus blesses the children in his midst, saying, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (emphasis mine). 

In the past few months, I have experienced a new pleasure in life: the privilege of caring for an aging couple from my church two days a week. As I watch them fail in body and mind (he is 90, and she is 86), I am struck by how much their humble state reminds me of newborn infants and small children. I do not mean that in a negative sense; rather, it makes me wonder if their dependence on others is what Jesus alluded to in his high praise of children.  

As I care for and spend time with this couple, something awakes in my spirit that takes me back to the days of mothering and nurturing my babies. Not only were they dependent on me for life itself, but they also looked to me for their sense of belonging and acceptance. And I, out of deep and unconditional love, was able to assure them, “Yes, you are very welcome here, and you are oh so precious to me.” If there is any likeness to Jesus in the feelings I’ve experienced while caring for the sweet young children (and now elderly) he has brought into my life, we can be assured of his deep and abiding love for us. 

My elderly friends, Ken and Pat, are needy. They cannot do the things they have done for themselves and others most of their earthly lives. Rather than being the ones serving—as parents, grandparents, teachers, and even overseas missionaries for a season—they now must accept help from others. They are dependent on others for everything from the most basic daily tasks of eating and personal care to driving their own car. And it’s not easy to accept. I watch Pat, for whom most mental faculties are still intact, struggle with these losses of independence and freedom to make her own choices and to come and go as she pleases. Ken remarks almost daily about the Buick he thinks he still drives. It’s a hard stage of life for them and difficult for me to watch at times. Oh, but they have “become like little children” in many ways.

For the majority of our lives on earth, unless we have special needs or disabilities, we can live under an illusion of self-sufficiency. After all, we consistently and competently take care of ourselves as a matter of routine. In fact, for many of us, the idea of asking for help is downright humiliating. Our pride is in high gear and we are rocking this thing called life. 

But perhaps this is God’s perfect design for those of us who live to a ripe old age. Our lives are in His hands at all times, but this is a beautiful thing: right before He takes us home, we are gently reminded of how weak and needy we’ve always been—whether we realize it or not. Let the little children come, indeed. Their heavenly Father is ready to welcome them. 

Joan Wagner is a former women’s ministry director, wife, and homemaker who now cares for Pat and Ken. She and her husband have been married for 38 years and have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. They live outside of Chicago.

Photo by Johnny Cohen