I am cutting circles out of bright orange construction paper and turning them into jack-o’-lanterns. As the pile of scraps grows higher, I find myself thoroughly enjoying the unusual challenge of using magic markers to make scary-looking teeth. A few months ago, I volunteered to take over bulletin board duty at the theology library where I work. We get hundreds of new books each month, and a different array of jackets is displayed on the board to reflect the seasons.
My computer is down this morning, so I decide to make good use of the time. And as I sit sketching colorful letters for the Halloween board, students passing by have a similar reaction. That looks like fun, one says, and another adds, Oh, those are beautiful!
It’s like being a child again, I remark to one student, and she nods.
Later, I realize that the few hours of cutting, pasting and sketching had wiped out the serious, very adult voice that is always dominating my thoughts. I’m not sure if everyone is entertained by a steady mental conversation; and I hesitate to admit that I am, for fear I will be branded as insane. But let me welcome you to my world for a typical few minutes:
I wonder if I should take our cat to the vet. She looked a bit poorly this morning. Wonder what it would cost. Of course, money should not be a consideration, but it is for me. Spent too much on clothes last month. I’m going to have to cut back. With the way taxes are going, I fear that some day we’ll have to move to a less expensive neighborhood. But, oh, how I would hate to leave our community.
As I sit piecing together the jack-o’-lanterns, something marvelous happens. Somehow, the rainbow markers, the glue, the scissors and the sheaves of paper seem to be working some sort of magic. And as I lose myself in the colors and textures, the voice is silenced.
Later that day I remember that Jesus had admonished his disciples that they could not find heaven unless they experienced a major change of heart: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
As with so many of his teachings, this is a huge challenge, and one that may lose its shock value the more we hear it proclaimed from the pulpit. But as I colored and cut and pasted, I wondered whether his advice could be translated rather loosely, Lighten up!
After all, adults carry around a rather hefty self, and surely I am the worst offender. I haul around a huge storehouse of memories, good and bad, along with a ton of expectations, fears, insecurities, longings and other mental clutter.
Even when I appear to be sitting silently at my desk doing my everyday computer tasks, the truth is that the voice is droning on and on in my brain: I hope my doctor’s appointment will turn out O.K. Did I do that breast self-exam right last month? And, oh no, I have to schedule that mammogram too. I sure hope the doctor doesn’t find anything.
Every time I read Jesus’ words about becoming childlike, I have to admit I get somewhat defensive. And then comes the voice: Being childlike may be easy for saints, but not for ordinary people like me. How are we supposed to become like children? What about our responsibilities? Oh, how I wish Jesus had left us a clearer map showing the way to heaven.
Still, if you put Jesus’ comments about becoming childlike alongside his other comments, maybe a map does start to emerge. Time and again, he told his friends to stop fretting about the future. Perhaps becoming childlike means trusting that, no matter what happens, God will not abandon us.
Trust, of course, is what a child’s world is all about. Children expect their parents to provide meals, shelter and clothing. They expect to be taken care of when they are ill and protected when they are scared.
Children are also experts at having fun. When I was a child, I was not held captive by a worrisome mental voice. I was too engrossed in whatever activity had tempted me at the moment, whether it was playing hopscotch, cutting out paper dolls or tending to my pet turtles.
I can recall the hours my sister and I spent pretending we were horses galloping around the backyard. When we tired of that, we invented maps and went hunting for imaginary buried treasure.
No wonder children embrace Halloween with just the right attitude. A child knows how delightful it is to dress up as a fluffy dog or a fierce monster. We adults too often leave the masquerading to children, as if becoming a ghoul or a goblin for the evening was, well, below our dignity.
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, Jesus said. The kingdom, I imagine, means a dazzling realm of peace and joy. It is a place where we can playand a place where children will take us, if only we will follow.
I now have quite a nice stack of paper jack-o’-lanterns on my desk. Some are rather elaborate and downright scary, if I do say so myself. And as I put away the glue and markers, I realize I have spent the morning doing something adults often have trouble with, because we are so encumbered with our ponderous grown-up selves: I have had fun.
What a huge relief it was to silence the big, serious adult voice in my mind. What heaven it was to become, for just a while, like a little child.