One day when Jesus was with his disciples, they asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus beckoned a child to come stand among them and then told the disciples: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Read the whole encounter in Matthew 18:1-6.)
I thought I understood that verse until about 10 days ago.
My 6-year old grandson wandered into my sewing room. He’s been told hundreds of times, “Leave Nonnie’s sewing things alone.” Nevertheless, he reached out to more closely investigate a lamp that was fastened to my sewing table with a clamp. When the lamp would not move, he pushed. When it resisted his pushing, he pushed harder, breaking the lamp, clamp and all. With his lower lip sticking out, my grandson asked, “Can you fix it, Papaw? When Papaw said it was too broken to fix, my grandson ran to the bedroom, dove under the covers and began to sob.
I went in to comfort him. He was sobbing so hard he could barely mutter, “I’m sorry, Nonnie.” Brokenly, he told me, “I don’t like to have to say, ‘Sorry.’”
I told him none of us liked to say, “I’m sorry,” but he shook his head and said, “No, Nonnie. I don’t like to be sorry.” Then, through my own tears, I asked, “You mean you don’t like to do things that are wrong?” He nodded. “Nonnie, I don’t like to do bad things even when I know I’m doing bad things.” I hugged him and told him that I loved him and forgave him. He smiled though his tears and then all was well again in his 6-year old heart.
My grandson knew he should not touch Nonnie’s sewing things, because he had been told that over and over. But he touched them anyway, and the consequences were awful. Not only had he broken something that didn’t belong to him, but what was broken could not be fixed. His remorse and sorrow over what he had done shattered his heart, and he cried out his sin to the one he had sinned against.
That’s when it hit me. That’s when I understood Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Little children know enough to admit when they’ve done wrong. They don’t have adult-like pride that prevents them from admitting their sin. The hearts of little children have not yet been hardened, and when they realize they have hurt someone, their hearts are broken. Little children feel genuine regret, remorse and shame when they do wrong. Yet, when they are forgiven, little children readily accept the love and forgiveness that covers their sin.
Would that we would become more like little children, heeding the warnings about what we are not supposed to do, being genuinely broken-hearted over our sins, confessing our sins to the one we sinned against, and rejoicing over the forgiveness we receive.
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Verna Davis, author and speaker, writes in Frankton. She can be reached at Vrdspeaks@yahoo.com.