Jesus frequently taught that the secret to entering the Kingdom of God – what we might also call happiness, enlightenment, awareness, or awakening – is to become as a little child. I have come to understand that these are among his most misunderstood and most abused teachings, for they are often used to convince people that they ought to unquestioningly obey whatever a preacher says – hardly Jesus’ intent, especially given some of the nonsense pastors try to slip past us by getting us to check our brains at the door.
Erin and I are travelling with our grandchildren this weekend, and they are a constant reminder of what it means to view the world as a little child. It’s the first trip they remember to a hotel – or, as our granddaughter Tali pronounces it, “ho-teyell.” Both Tali and Greyson evaluate most everything at face value, without the burden of bias and preconceived notions most adults carry. A little bit of homesickness can be cured by new of a trip the next morning to the aquarium at The Mall of America, where there is also a “Dora park” – surely the closest thing to heaven in the mind of a three and one-half year old little girl! Greyson, who will be two in three weeks, is clearly just in it for the adventure and requires no advance warning or promise of any event, leading me to believe that it is somewhere between two and four years old that preferences start creeping into our consciousness – surely the first step out of a child-like acceptance of whatever comes our way.
Practically speaking, the problem with preferences is that reality seldom cooperates with them. It may be true that we would rather things be other than they are, but that truth has little impact outside of our own dissatisfaction. Nothing is accomplished by our preferences other than our own unhappiness with the way things really are intensifies. I am reminded of a story I heard the other day about a divorce recovery group in the Milwaukee area that is bogged down by a couple of women who are still stuck “wondering how [their] husband could have left” several months after his actual physical departure. Such circular thinking is a way of avoiding the reality of their husband’s departure, a refusal to confront the reality of what is in favor of the fantasy of a reconciliation that is no longer possible. Ironically, a child-like acceptance leads us to accept things as they are rather than proceed from the fictions of our preferences.
It’s always a good time to examine our own acceptance of the reality of our lives, for surely such acceptance is the biggest measure of our happiness. We may not like the way things are, but failing to acknowledge the way things are leads us to a fantasy world from which we cannot possibly acknowledge or impact the only world we can actually impact in a meaningful way – the real world. It may not be much, but it’s all we have!