I have been a Christian for most of my life. I was raised in a Christian home, the third daughter of a Methodist preacher. It's part of my family's lore that after my older sister had asked Jesus into her heart she began talking to me about doing the same. I staunchly refused. When pressed on the topic, my reply was simply: "I'm not done being bad yet." I was four at the time. It was a prophetic statement.
I did finally get on the bandwagon some time later, but I am still not sure I really got it. Like many people raised in the church, it was all more form than content. I believed in God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I went to Sunday School, memorized scripture and sat through boring sermon after boring sermon, doodling in my bulletin with the short, stumpy pencils provided in the pews.
There is one time I remember a message really "getting me" in my childhood. We were visiting another church, a pastor my dad knew. I don't know what denomination it was, but it was held in a huge auditorium and had a primarily black congregation. Everyone was so joyful and energetic and the preacher was so passionate (and repetitive) that I remember his sermon until this day. He preached about prayer, about being a kid in the South and about kids back then being able to buy a "penny bag" of candy. His family was so poor that he did not even have a penny to spare. So he would walk along praying, "Please God, let me find a penny." Over and over he would pray. And every day he prayed it, he would find one.
It got my attention in a big way. I started trying it out in my life, although with inflation and all my prayer was for a quarter. Time after time, I would find a quarter. It was awesome! Like God was my own personal piggy bank. This is not sound theology, by the way, but keep in mind I was seven. I think God answered my prayer then for the same reasons he answered that pastor's childhood prayers. For one, to let us know He really was there. He wasn't Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. He is GOD and He exists. Secondly, because He likes to give His children good gifts, regardless of their age. Finally, because we had the faith of a child.
It's easy to have child-like faith when you are, in fact, a child. Jesus talked about kids a lot. One of my favorite examples is in Matthew 11:25 when He said: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children." I believe kids are born with an innate sense of who God is and the nature of His all-encompassing love. Little kids don't get bogged down in doctrinal disputes, they don't struggle with the mystery of the Trinity or whether the tithe should be based on net or gross earnings. They give and receive the love of God easily.
In many Eastern traditions, parents acknowledge that they have much more to learn from their children than they will ever be able to teach them. They know so much more of the important stuff because they aren't convinced that they know everything already. I think in this scripture Jesus is saying the same thing. We should approach the throne of God with an open and vulnerable heart, not relying on our knowledge but on His. I did not have the easiest childhood. My father was a better preacher than he was a dad. But even with a less-than-perfect past, my seven year old self had enough faith to score a quarter. As I grew up and became "wise and learned," I lost touch with that faith.
The good news is that we can get it back. I got so stinking wise and learned, what with my law degree and all, that I am lucky that I even had sight of Christ at all. When my first baby was born sick, when they told me he would probably not live another week, all of that became dung, as the apostle Paul would put it. I was a child before my God, stripped of all artifice of control, humble, vulnerable, and powerless. I asked him for time; just a few more moments with my Eddie. Just a quarter's worth. He gave to me in abundance. I asked for days, He gave me weeks, for weeks and He gave me months. Just to be able to hold him and He let me take him home. How great is Our God?
To clarify: God is not my piggy bank. For a few weeks, we attended a church whose congregants believed that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, God is going to do everything your way. That if you are sick or poor or have some other challenge in your life, you are not praying the right prayer or your faith is in some way lacking. Those people are crazy. Ahem, I mean misled. The Bible is full of stories of suffering and death. The apostles were tortured and martyred and I think they probably had plenty of faith. Thinking that through prayer you can control the will of God is whacked out theology at best and really dangerous at worst. It puts people in need in a position of shame and that in and of itself is shameful.
What I do mean is, you can approach the throne of grace as a child and God will give you good gifts. They may not be the gifts you thought you wanted or what you expected, but continue to have child-like faith and trust and you will see that they are good. I prayed like crazy for Eddie to be restored to perfect health, for him to live a full, adult life. That did not happen and it's not because I did not have enough faith. It is because it was God's will that I be here, right now, sharing my experience with you. That I would be able to stand up and say that, in this flawed and difficult world, we can have hope, peace, and joy, overflowing and abundant, no matter what. So that maybe you don't have to suffer years of addiction and the sickness and death of a child to figure out how to have child-like faith yourself. That maybe you could read these words and find it in you to humble yourself before God, let go of your own illusions of control, and just say, "Please God, can I have a quarter?"