I have the best bosses in all the world and the best possible job. I hate to boast, but it’s true. I work for children. And my job is to write them the best stories I can.
One of the perks of the job is the hugs I get from my bosses. And the other great perk? The profound truths they teach me.
Here are some of them.
Have you ever noticed how distraught and anxious tiny children become when they can’t see their parent? They won’t play. They won’t settle. They cry. But the minute their parent is there, they become calm—they’re not anxious anymore. They play. They explore. They laugh. They’re unafraid. What is the difference?
The presence of the parent.
The little child’s unwavering faith in and unquestioning trust of his parent frees him. Frees him to explore, to play, to be fully present in the moment. He doesn’t worry about tomorrow. He doesn’t worry about the stock market, or food, or clothing. A tiny child doesn’t even think about those things. She knows that’s not her job. It’s her father’s job to take care of her. Why? Because he loves her.
And it’s our heavenly Father’s job to take care of us too.
We are adults and obviously have to take care of grown-up things. But worry is something children don’t do. Why? They trust their father knows what he’s doing. They trust that their father loves them.
Even in the face of the pandemic, God is asking us not to be afraid.
I love the story of the friendship between Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon. Luther was starting the Reformation in Europe—obviously a very dangerous thing. Melanchthon was a younger scholar—and a big worrier. He often panicked to Luther, saying, “Flee to the mountains. The Reformation is over. It’s not going to work.” And Luther would look at Melanchthon and say, “Let Philip cease to rule the world.”
When I am worrying, I say that phrase to myself. Because ultimately, when I worry, even though I know God is ruling the world, I think somehow he isn’t going to get it right. Deep down I don’t quite trust him. And I think I know better how it should go.
In other words, I am trying to rule the world.
“Let Philip cease to rule the world.”
Of course, the thing about children is—they never thought they could.
In my business—writing picture books for children—editors talk about a piece having “heart.” It’s what, in my opinion, makes the difference between a good book and a great one. It’s that part of the book that is deeply true and poignant. That catches in your throat and burns in your heart.
I was in the Museum of Modern Art a few years ago and overheard someone commenting on a piece of non-representational art. I think it was a Rothko. “My child could do that!” they said. They meant it as an insult. I take it as a great compliment.
“My child could do that!” But really, isn’t that the point?
Artists like Rothko were specifically drawn to children’s art. Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
The power of a child’s art is defined by what they can’t do—by their lack. They know they can’t do it. And as a result, their art is not about showing off skill or expertise. It’s coming from somewhere else.
It’s all heart.
Artists like Twombly and Rothko had a very high view of children. They were trying to get at that same heart. They set out to unlearn, to recapture that enchantment and power inherent in the art of a child.
The child is small in a world that is vast. A child is not in control of his pencil or his paints. He is physically not able to master them. He struggles to depict things—and every line has heart. All that he is goes into it.
The power of the art of a child comes not from his ability or his strength. It comes from his weakness, his not being able, his vulnerability.
Suddenly it becomes about more than just art.
When people asked Jesus, “Who’s the greatest in your kingdom?” Jesus showed them a little child and said, “Become like this little child.”
Children seem to know they are on holy ground. Perhaps because they are closer to it.
Children seem to know they are on holy ground. Perhaps because they are closer to it. Is it something about their smallness? Their newness? Their wonder?
Children see rightly. They have a right-sized view of themselves in relation to God. Which is true humility. Not that they think less of themselves, but think of themselves less.
It’s not all about what we teach children. It’s also about what they teach us. We don’t speak to the child from on high. We need get on their level. Down on our knees. Eye-to-eye. Our proper attitude before children is humility.
I want to become like a little child. I want to learn from them—especially about wonder. Children have a great talent for wonder.
They are like their heavenly Father that way. G.K. Chesterton wrote,
Children . . . always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
And really, it shouldn’t surprise us that God is “younger” than we are, should it? After all, it wasn’t a general, or a warrior, or a politician God sent to rescue his broken world.
It was a baby.
Image from Sally Lloyd-Jones’s upcoming book, Near: Psalm 139 (2021). Artwork by Jago.