by Elaine Lindridge.
I was sitting in park recently, trying to keep warm on a bench whilst reading my book. The unmistakable ‘clip-clop, clip-clop’ noise made me look up and notice two horses with their riders approaching. Apparently they too were out for their daily stroll. Ten minutes later I heard them again as they returned from the end of the park – only this time they had company! A young girl, I would guess around 9 years old, joyously running behind them with her younger friend trying to keep up. She turned to her friend and shouted, ‘I want to go horse riding so I’m just going to hop on’. Her enthusiasm made me smile – as did her belief that she could just catch up, hop on and become a horse-rider.
Back to my book, I zoned out the activities of the park in order to read. I was reading Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans. An excellent book in which Rachel does not shy away from the texts that have caused her to struggle. She shares some of her big questions and her journey back to an appreciation of the scriptures. I was particularly enjoying chapter 6 which asks ‘what is the good news?’ Rachel writes,
‘To the Galilean children who annoyed the disciples by asking Jesus for a blessing, the good news is that Jesus is the kind of king who laughs at their jokes and tousles their hair’.
A few minutes later, I saw the little girl walking back through the park. I’d seen that she’d managed to catch up with the horse riders and she’d been talking with them. I’ll never know why she chose to approach me…there were plenty of other people around. Despite the fact that I hadn’t waved or even smiled she walked up and with a big smile on her face she simply stated, ’I’m going horse-riding tomorrow’.
I smiled and couldn’t help but think about Matthew 18:1-5
… the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
At times, this passage has been used to encourage people to believe and not doubt or question their faith. In the same book, Rachel Held Evans has something to say about this;
“I’ve often said that those who say having a childlike faith means not asking questions haven’t met too many children.”
As a 13 year old who was new to faith and new to church, I distinctly remember being rebuked when I came with all my questions. Fortunately a wonderful, older woman called Joyce took me under her wing and shared her answers alongside her own questions too.
To see this girl in the park with enough innocent conviction to believe that she could simply hop on a horse and become a rider was totally refreshing. Whilst I hadn’t even entertained the notion that she might be allowed to go horse-riding, her abundance of honestly, boldness and natural faith spilled out of her as she ran after the riders and presented them with her request.
In recent times my faith has been lacking. I’ve had far more questions than answers, and at times I’ve been afraid to even address those questions never mind look for any answers. How will we as a church cope as this pandemic continues? What will be left? How is my calling changing? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus when you can’t go anywhere? How do I share faith and demonstrate the love of God when I don’t see anyone beyond my household? What next? How will our Methodist structures cope under the strain? Should our structures cope or is it time for them to implode?
These are just some of my questions – please don’t judge me for my lack of faith. But in the dead of night when it is dark and still and sleep has hidden itself, questions circulate like a vulture and consume my thoughts. Perhaps you experience this too and could list the questions you dare not address.
So I am very happy to be reminded that it’s good to question. Like children perhaps we can come boldly before God and be honest about our uncertainties, doubts and unanswerable (at least for now) questions. It’s okay to humbly acknowledge, ‘we just don’t know’ and live with unresolved questions because God is still faithful, especially in times of uncertainty. But if we’re going to be like children then let’s also come before God with exuberance, innocence and expectant faith.
Oh Lord help me to be like the little girl – to expect, have faith, and received.
9 thoughts on “Childlike faith”
Thank you Elain, I too have the same and other questions running around my head in these days. Let us take heart by the questioning nature of many of the encounters of the disciples with Jesus, and as we move into Advent Mary’s question ‘How can this be?’ You have reminded us of the need to take the childlike quality of an enthusiasm for adventure into our uncertainty.
Ah yes – the questions and the faith of children. As a child I wanted to know if Jesus went to other worlds, and what happened to him there. It was decades before I saw this thought echoed in a (then new) hymn. I also wanted to know, if John ‘came baptising for the remission of sins’, what was Jesus for? And my elder son, before he was five, watched the burial of a beloved pet in the garden and said ‘Where is the REAL cat now?’
I sometimes wonder if the people who write confidently about the developmental stages of children’s minds could cope with some of the things children come out with. My younger son, asked when he was small what he wanted to be when he grew up, said ‘A kind man’. What wisdom!
Lord, save us from growing up!
I sincerely hope that no-one will judge you Elaine – and that instead any comments will be praising your courageous honesty. Thanks for lovely pictures in my head – and a good book recommendation.
Just as difficult is dealing with children’s doubts. “How do you know Fido is in heaven. The minister says he has no soul”. I am driven back to Tennyson s statement about “honest doubt”. It is another reminder that there are two sides to faith – the affirming and the questioning. Both are equally important. True faith allows room for the doubters and the skeptics – those who refuse to accept the status quo.
The concept of being afraid to ask questions in case they have no answers is a powerful one.
Perhaps also we are afraid to ask certain questions because we think we SHOULD have the answers, and we don’t.
“Should our structures cope or is it time for them to implode?” is certainly on my mind.
Perhaps in the providence of God we could dare to ask such questions in the belief that they DO have answers – but the answers may be a long time coming. And the answers may not come to those who think they should know the answers, but to fresh people. New wineskins for new wine?
Good article and comments.
We must never confuse a childlike faith with a childish faith which is to be content with immaturity. To ask questions does not mean a denial of faith. We need to always go on asking them. Jesus used the question method sometimes in His teaching to enable people to reach an answer for themselves, e.g. ‘Who do you say that I am?
Faith is not knowing and answers and possibly asking questions. Knowing the answers is denying faith.
I grew up in a family which did not go to church so I received my earliest religious education in school.
As a five year old, the first hymn I learnt in school was ‘Jesus, good above all other, gentle child of gentle mother, in a stable born our brother, give us grace to persevere.’ That song touched my soul.
I was the third of three daughters but that year we got a much-longed-for brother. He was born in a maternity hospital, not a stable, but he arrived home on Christmas Eve and it felt to me as if the Christmas story had come alive, with our own baby boy in the crib on Christmas morning.
‘Persevere’ is a big word for a five year old so I asked my mother what does it mean? She said it means ‘keep trying’ and in a flash my next question followed: ‘Keep trying what?’ My mother told me, once I had grown up, that my constant questioning could be very trying indeed!
But I can see now that it was the seeker in me emerging. I never stopped asking questions and I hope I never will. Life and faith are a voyage of discovery. Once we think we know all the answers we just stagnate.
‘Lord, in all our doings guide us,
Pride and hate will ne’er divide us,
We’ll go on with Thee beside us,
And with joy we’ll persevere.’