“Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”  Powerful words, for as we age, we become hardened to the mini-miracles of life.  It seems we lose the wonder and awe with which a child approaches life. 

These words of Jesus were written by Mark in chapter 10 of his Gospel, and he follows this story telling about the Rich Young Ruler. This young man had riches and was a stickler for the disciplines of life.  He was the kind of guy who never made a wrong turn nor never took a crooked road.  He asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Maybe hoping that Jesus would be proud of his efforts by following the commands, he felt that he had “earned” eternal life.  We cannot tell the spirit by which he asked the question, whether he sincerely wanted to know or whether this was a pride thing for him.  Was he really seeking to be more like Jesus or was he saying, “Look at me Jesus, I am such a goody-goody?”

No matter his motive, Jesus sensed the need in this young man’s life- that he had lost his childish nature. He had lost the run in the fields, pick flowers, sing songs, laugh, and cry nature of a child.  He had also lost that unbridled passion of a child to throw caution to the wind and risk everything.  His aspiration had become his rules; and his security, his wealth. So when Jesus told him to leave it all behind, all his wealth and all his status, he couldn’t do it. Rules and wealth were his salvation, not Abba. He was merely playing with God.

I guess that’s why I like working with incarcerated teens.  Many had lousy childhoods in messed up worlds.  They have missed out on the carefree nature of a child.  When you approach them with this wild idea that God loves them and has created them special with a plan for their lives, they get this wide-eyed look of wonder in their eyes. You tell them that they don’t have to “earn” their right to God, that they don’t have an abusive father in heaven, that their Abba in heaven is one that runs to meet them and lavish love upon them.  When you tell them these things, you see the childlike amazement come over them. Rather than being the hardened criminals society thinks they are, they become the child of their Abba which he created them to be. 

I think of one of these incarcerated teens who recently told me how he has learned to be grateful for being abandoned by his father.  He said that without a father, he couldn’t go fishing with his dad like the other kids, or play catch, or have father/son talks.  If he would’ve had a father, he might not have turned to drugs, turned to crime, turned to all the things that got him locked up.  And if he hadn’t been locked up, then he might have missed the chance to learn about his Abba that loves him.  You see, he is grateful for being locked up, for it allowed him to find God, his true Abba. He has learned to run after God and be caught up in the wonder.

“Let the children come” – lace up your sneakers, your Abba wants to play!