They ran up to Jesus, excitement coursing through their veins. He chided those who dismissed them, “leave the children alone…” He insisted with a smile as He drew them near, His voice thick with compassion (Matthew 19:14).
I love to imagine the children being brought to visit Jesus. Were some of them crawling? Were some learning to walk and “monster wobbling” their way toward Him? What if His “leave the children alone” was mixed with hearty laughter as He reached out His hands to steady one who precariously teetered into Him?
I’ve been a nanny for almost a year now. In that time I have seen a baby grow from a 4 month old infant to 15 month old toddler. It has been staggering to understand in a new way the developmental influence of intimacy. This little one grows and learns as he watches me. When I sing, he stares at my mouth, mesmerized. When I walk around the room his little eyes follow me, never leaving me for a second.
Amidst our years of formal education, our learning continues to be influenced most deeply by relationship – face to face with the ones we will become most like, mimicking their every move, learning to be human. Seeing this happen vividly in my job has been SWEET. He mimics my moon eye grim, his momma’s slightly turned out feet when she stands, and absolutely everything about his dad.
As I began this job, I was excited to receive a fresh perspective on “faith like a child.” I had plenty of presumptions about what this meant but I wanted to open my heart to what Jesus had to teach me. He quickly began exposing my [false] working definition of “child-like faith,” which was: “to blindly follow, to be ignorant.”
Without even realizing it, I had defined child-like faith to be “ignorance without any desire to grow.” As I watched the intense kindness and brilliance that shown in this child’s eyes, my presumption was quickly dethroned. It was replaced with the realization that child-like faith is the most tenacious, rooted force I have ever encountered (save the grace of God).
Learning thru Experience
We all know about the right and left side of the brain. At the most basic level (I’m certainly not claiming to be a scientist), the right side of the brain is connected to holistic thinking and the left side with facts. The right prefrontal cortex takes in experiences as a whole, while the left prefrontal cortex files those experiences away as facts.
In the first year of life, before we can speak, we are absorbing information mainly through the visual and nonverbal building blocks of our right prefrontal cortex – through holistic experiences. Those experiences are received and filed away in our left prefrontal cortex as facts. This is how we build our blueprint of what it means to be human. Until a fact or theory becomes something we’ve seen or experienced for ourselves, the left side “file-cabinet” of our brain cannot keep that filed away as fact. The opposite is also true – if we have an experience that tells us something that isn’t true, it can be very difficult to stop believing it until we have a new experience that replaces it. (For more on this head to heart connection, read chapter 8 in Heart Made Whole by Christa Black Gifford.)
This explains why I grew up hating math. I didn’t have a context for what I was learning and try as I might, it is painstakingly difficult to make something “stick” in your brain if you can’t fit it in your big picture. I found myself having similar experiences with the facts I knew about God.
Let’s start with the most basic one: “God loves you.” I grew up hearing it, singing it, reciting it, but there were so many things were higher on my list of “beliefs that influence me” than the fact that God loves me because my experiences with those things were stronger. I was influenced by fear, people’s opinions, misguided loyalties, old habits (just to name a few) far more than I was being influenced by the love of God, and I felt so guilty about it! I couldn’t understand why I didn’t just GET IT. (I remember feeling the same way about Algebra 2.)
Fix our Eyes
The only way these facts about God were going to become deeply-rooted beliefs that influenced my life was if I went back to the beginning where my beliefs were created. Babies absorb the most information about the world through eye-to-eye contact with their caregivers. Caregivers are encouraged to make intentional eye contact with their baby often because that’s how they will gain confidence in you and learn from you. How shockingly beautiful that as God’s children we are told to look to His face, to lock eyes with our Savior? This is the beginning that we must return to and replace the lies we’ve believed with truth.
Our Creator made us this way on purpose, and that’s why Jesus came to be with us. For us to experience intimacy with God, we had to connect with Him and learn to trust Him in human form. I learn to trust God as I come to know Him as this person, Jesus. I learn as I take time to reflect on His humanity in the gospels. How is He posturing Himself toward me? What is this telling me about His heart? Then I sit and gaze, and listen, and receive.
As my nugget is getting close to walking, I’ve been dreaming about how thrilled I will be when he takes those first steps on his own. I’ll squeal and cry and probably lose it completely. How proud and happy I will be. Will it matter that it’s only one step? That seems foolish to even think. Of course it won’t matter. I will encourage him to take more steps and help him along the way, but those first shaky steps will be the most beautiful thing in the world.
What if that’s the way the Father heart of God responds when He sees us stepping toward Him, shaky as we may be? Knowing those eyes of love will ignite in us the courage we need to step towards Him. When we move in faith, anchored in confidence in His love, what tears of delight well up in His eyes and what cheering comes down from heaven. What if we found the rest and support we long for because He’s there at each step, beaming with pride, and guiding us on.
Having faith like a child means going back to the beginning and locking eyes with our Savior. That’s where deepest understanding grows. There our minds are renewed and the image of God within us can develop and grow. “They looked to Him and were radiant; their faces will never blush in shame or confusion” (Psalm 34:5, AMP). Will you go back to the beginning this Advent and simply BE with your Savior?
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, grant us eyes to see the tender, simplicity of Your love for us. May you grant us confident, tenacious faith like a child to lock-in to Your gaze this Advent. May we not turn our eyes to the right or the left. May the compassion that shines from Your presence shift the way we see ourselves, and the way we see everyone around us. Father God, grant us the ability to come as children, to learn from You. Humble our hearts, that our theology might be a stepping stool to Your face and not a blinder from it. Amen.