Last Friday I wrote about the necessity of becoming like little children if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Once we’re all grown up, with adult responsibilities and commitments, how can we ever return to the simpler times of childhood? And simplicity is a key ingredient in childlikeness, isn’t it? Henry David Thoreau said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail. . . . Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Thomas à Kempis said, “Purity and simplicity are the two wings with which man soars above the earth and all temporary nature.” And Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” (All quotations taken from http://www.heartquotes.net/Simplicity.html.)
Temporary nature. The real things of life. Hmm. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 we read, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” If we focus on the eternal instead of the temporary, we can avoid getting caught up in the latest fads, in gadgets, in material things of all kinds and instead live in God’s Kingdom, which is eternal. If our priorities are God’s priorities, if we align ourselves with what Jesus taught was important, we can start to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom. What a dramatic change we must make in how we view the world if we want to see it through the eyes of a child! People we have overlooked suddenly grab our attention, and our hearts feel a peculiar longing. What next? We are on the road to discipleship, so we walk, step by step.
As we approach the trinity holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, we have a great opportunity to examine and explore our faith journey, our road to discipleship. I’d like to propose a three-step process that acknowledges the autumn and winter holidays and can help us along our walk.
First, Thanksgiving: we need to realize how blessed we are and express our gratitude. We can and surely do this silently in prayer already, but I suggest another way. Choose something for which you are especially grateful, such as plenty of good food to eat, and express gratitude to God by feeding the hungry, by volunteering at or donating to your local food pantry or other organization that focuses on food. If you’re grateful for a warm, dry home, volunteer at or give to Habitat for Humanity or a similar charity. One of my favorites is World Vision, which offers many ways for me to express my gratitude for food, shelter, education, and clean water by providing these things to people in need all over the world.
Second, Christmas: this holiday is all about gifts. Yes, retailers love it because we spend lots of money on stuff, but it’s really about The Gift, the child in the manger, the savior of the world. So focus on gifts you have received from God in the form of talents and abilities and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and serve in those areas of giftedness at your church and in your home and community. Help your children discover their gifts, too, and find ways for them to serve. You might be surprised at how meaningful they find this, especially as they realize that God has placed talents and abilities in them that they can call on to actually help build the Kingdom of Heaven in their own communities.
Third, New Year’s: for me, this holiday is about fresh beginnings, and I always tend to be introspective about the year past and the one just beginning. What did I do that was worthwhile? How can I be better? Am I sufficiently thankful, and am I serving in my areas of giftedness? January 1 is the end of the holiday celebrations and the beginning of a long stretch of cold, dark days with the warmth and new life of spring only a pleasant memory and a wishful thought. It’s the perfect time to examine deeply who we are, who God made us to be and how we have allowed ourselves to be shaped both by Him and by worldly influences. Can we open our hearts more widely to let God in to remake us in His image? Will we let Him break us, as a potter breaks the imperfect piece, returns it to clay, and remolds it? Will we trust Him to act in our best interests (this is an especially difficult one for me because I have trust issues) and accept His intrusion into our plans? Will we be alert to His voice? Will we be willing to change and grow? Will we be like little children and let Jesus lead us?
Unless we become like children, Jesus says, we cannot enter the Kingdom. I know I want to be there, even if it means letting the God of the universe into my clenched little heart. What about you?