Friday, July 2, 2010

under the tutelage of a toddler

Just a few days ago, while at the house of our friends, I received two brief but meaningful lessons from a toddler who was indirectly tutoring me on the substance of life.

Lesson #1
He (a 3-year old), his father, and I were sitting at a table munching on popcorn. I asked him something along the lines of, "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you choose to go?" Without hesitation - seriously, there was no need for contemplation of his answer! - he responds with the utmost excitement and sobriety, extending his hand upward as far as he can stretch, smiling big as he responds, "I would go straight to heaven and be with Jesus!" His father gleams with pride (what Christian father wouldn't?) and I offer up a high-five for such a great answer.
But I'm a bit stubborn and, although I appreciated the response, I wondered if perhaps he had misunderstood or missed the point of what I was really asking. In order to disambiguate my request, I change the wording a bit, saying, "But if you had to choose somewhere on earth, where would you go?" (this time I really emphasized the phrase "on earth"). Yet, the boy retorts - again with no need for contemplation - "I want to die so that Jesus can bring me to where He is!"
So, as it turned out, it was I who missed the point of what I was really asking, because my question was laden with assumptions about the limitations of our desires and expectations. But this child knew no such limitations, and was only aware of the fulness of reality - life in Christ. The implicit limitations I had set were revealed in my conceptualization of "world" and supposedly feasable "places to go." My question also illuminated a potential difference in emphasis between myself (as an "adult") and my friends' son. That is, while it is not wrong to enjoy this world and its beauty as the creation of God, my question was somewhat related to a list of "places one hopes to go before they die." But this child's response was more related to "the ultimate goal of life," surpassing life on this earth and all its places. I was focused on the world that is; he was fixed on the world to come. I was focused on remaining; he was fixed upon ascending. And, furthermore, he was crucially fixed upon the principal Person from which all life derives, both in this world and the next, Jesus Christ.

Lesson #2
At another point in our "table talk" (if I may reference Luther here) that turned into a form of pedagogy was when our friends' son began to list his "friends" that live nearby. To my surprise and enjoyment, he mentioned our 10-month old son first, along with several other kids. The salient point that drew my attention was how quick this child was to deem others his friends, as if this was the most simple, basic and default position. And, not only that, it was a meaningful relationship to be cherished. It stood out to me because it contrasted with how readily adults, on the other hand, are quick to label others as not being friends, or worse, being enemies. Our sons are more than two years apart in age (which, in terms of proportion of their respective ages, is quite a lot!). My son doesn't even talk yet. They've gotten to spend time and play together in only a handful of instances. Yet, our son is the friend of another. And so it should be.
This contrast between the aforementioned child mindset and the adult one parallels in some ways the mindset of our Lord Jesus Christ over and above that which humanity displays. All too often, even as Christians, we construct a categorical distinction between those that are "friends" as opposed to those who are "enemies" in order to justify the respective actions that we have towards individuals in each group. But, in the well-known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages and instructs us to "love [our] enemies, and pray for those who persecute [us]" (Matthew 5:44; see also Luke 6:27, 35). The action to all of humanity, our action to all of humanity, regardless of how we perceive them or how they position themselves in relation to us, is to be one of love, so that we in Christ fulfill the greatest of the commandments:

"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

To reinforce this notion, we need only but look to the example of Christ Himself, in his Person and work(s), who went to the furthest extremes - laying down His own life - in order to call us friends, who were His enemies. That is, He does not seek any to be or become His enemies (though some may choose to become such, against His desire by virtue of our free will); rather, He seeks His enemies to become and be His friends:

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [...] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:8, 10)

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you My friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you." (John 15:13-16)

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