A long time ago, Jesus said that if we want to come into the kingdom of God, we must become like little children (Mark 10:15).
As a dad of three young kids, this stirs my soul. When I look at them and see the way they see the world, I get a sense of longing for simplicity and trust. Of self-forgetfulness and joy. It makes me think of the picture of Jabba the Hut that I have on the wall of my office.
Joshua, my now 10-year-old, colored it for me when he was 4. I like to look at it sometimes, but not because it’s a technically awesome picture. Everybody knows that Jabba is brown – not green. And I think even Jabba himself might be offended at how liberally the crayon goes outside the lines. Furthermore, Joshua’s message at the top of the paper, “I LOV YOU,” is misspelled.
But I love that picture, and it will hang in my office for some time. The 8-year-old Joshua wouldn’t present me with such a picture, because now he would deem such a creation as unworthy of his skills. His internal monologue has changed. It once was, “My daddy will love this. He will be so proud of me,” but I fear it is becoming “I didn’t do a very good job. I can do better. I can’t give him something like this.”
That makes me very sad.
I don’t think this shift in thinking is because Joshua is being raised in an environment where he has to jockey for his parents’ love and approval; by God’s grace, we are generous with praise and he knows he is unconditionally loved. Instead, I believe it is the process that happens to all of us when we become more and more conscious of ourselves.
We care about our physical appearance more than we used to.
We notice how our voice sounds in comparison to others.
We, for the first time, start to wonder if we are actually “cool” or not.
You know the feeling. It’s the one when you find yourself surrounded by people who work more interesting jobs, take more interesting vacations, and live generally more interesting lives. Suddenly, you find yourself shrinking into yourself, very conscious of your normality in light of what’s surrounding you.
It’s that sense of self-consciousness that Jesus speaks into. His advice is simple – become like a little child. Abandon that self-consciousness and instead find a renewed and simple sense of wonder. Revert back to innocence, to the days when we gladly gave our fathers those metaphorical pictures of Jabba the Hut with misspelled messages of affection. Here’s a case study that might help.
Think about the miraculous lunch in John 6. The disciples faced a seemingly insurmountable issue, and they were at a loss. The people (at least 5,000 and probably twice that at least) were hungry. But, as the disciples so aptly put it to Jesus, it would take almost a year’s salary to buy enough food to feed them (John 6:7).
Perhaps you remember the end of the story, too. Jesus used the gift of a little boy – five barley loaves and two fish – to feed a multitude. It’s a great story, but here’s the thing: Are we to believe that this boy was the only one in the crowd who had remembered to pack a lunch for the day? Probably not. Surely there was a conscientious mother somewhere on the hill who had a package of crackers in her purse. So where were all the other volunteers?
We can’t say for sure, for the Bible does not. Maybe their food was spoiled. Maybe they were selfish and didn’t present it. Maybe this boy was simply the one closest to Andrew and so his lunch box got chosen. We don’t know, but maybe…
Maybe the adults in the crowd had the same attitude as the disciples. They were self-conscious about the best they could do, so they kept their lunches to themselves. Maybe they looked at what they had to offer and were suddenly overcome by the overwhelming sense of normalcy: This isn’t enough. It’s not even worth putting out there. I don’t have anything valid to offer. Somebody’s going to laugh at me if I walk up there carrying this. Driven inward by their self-consciousness, they were paralyzed into inaction and silence.
We will likely have the same feeling as we seek to find the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. We will have a heart full of wonder, and yet at some point we will be tempted to look at our own boring potential and, like the self-conscious adults we are, just go about the business of life.
Part of following Jesus is overcoming that self-consciousness. It’s coming to Jesus with all we have, small though it may be, and giving it to Him.
The real issue with self-consciousness is the “self” part. We’re too busy thinking about our own weaknesses and inadequacies to consider the greatness of Jesus. Our focus is on ourselves rather than on the multiplier of fish.
I want to bring my badly colored pictures to God. My measly fish and broken bread. My weak faith and my inconstant prayer life. My normal routine of everyday stuff. I want to bring them to Him because I believe that the One I’m presenting them to is bigger than my weakness. Oh, to forget myself and be lost in the grandeur of Jesus. Oh, to regain the sense of wonder that characterizes little children who haven’t yet grown into that self-conscious sense of foolishness. We must regain this sense of wonder that motivated a little boy to bring his normal, little lunch box to Jesus and see what happened. We must not be too grown up to believe. We must, in the end, focus our gaze on Jesus, for it’s only in and through Him that we will see the boring issues of life suddenly be multiplied and transformed.
Excerpted from my book Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.