Guest contributor: Ed Trego
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)
Have you ever watched a small child interact with his or her parents? In a loving family relationship the faith exhibited by the child is remarkable. Trust and love is given with no thought of betrayal. This is the kind of faith Jesus was referring to in the scripture above. The kind of faith that a child has when they jump from the edge of the pool into the waiting arms of Mom or Dad. There is no thought of danger, even though the child doesn’t know how to swim and without the saving arms of the parent, he might drown. The child knows and has total confidence in the love of her parents and rightly trusts that they would let no harm come to her.
I once watched as a small child ran full speed toward our priest after mass. When she got a few steps away she jumped, holding her arms up to the priest. She knew that she could trust him to catch her. Of course he did, and both of them beamed with happiness. That little girl had faith enough to risk jumping into thin air, never doubting that she would be caught in those loving arms and be safe from harm.
God wants us to have that kind of faith, that kind of trust in our lives. Trust enough to risk everything, with absolute confidence that God will always catch us and protect us from harm. This is the trust and love that we, as adults, must have in our relationship with God. If we don’t have enough faith to jump into the waiting arms of God with full confidence that He will catch us, we are not living our faith to the fullest.
As adults we seem to lose that level of faith and trust. Certainly, most of us had it when we were children. We trusted our parents and had faith that they wanted what was best for us and would do all in their power to protect us.
What happened? Where did the faith go? Maybe we found our parents, as humans, weren’t as trustworthy as we expected. Maybe they let us fall into the pool instead of catching us and keeping us above water. Maybe when we went to them with a problem, they didn’t seem to have time for us. Maybe, just maybe, we were abused by them, either physically or mentally. Maybe we just began to believe that we could rely on ourselves and didn’t need to trust them any longer. Whatever the reason we lost our childlike faith in our parents. If we are to be children of God, it’s vital that we rediscover that level of faith and confidence in our relationship with Him.
As humans we tend to grow out of the childlike faith Jesus talked about. At some point our parents began to let us replace our faith in them with faith in ourselves. “Grow up”; “stand on your own two feet”; “if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else is going to”. Most of us heard those or similar admonitions as were growing up, becoming more mature. Self reliance is, in many ways, necessary to life as an adult. We learn to rely less and less on others and more on ourselves. While that is needed in the world we live in, it is destructive to our faith life with God. There is a dichotomy at work in our lives; we need to be self-sufficient, but we aren’t self-sufficient. We may think we can handle whatever comes our way, but sooner or later we come to realize that some things are bigger than us and can’t be resolved without help.
As an adult, we still need someone to place our faith and trust in. Without it, life becomes lonely and, in many ways, scary. In some cases it becomes intolerable, resulting in alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide. If there were someone to turn to in whom we had absolute confidence, we wouldn’t need the artificial means of enduring the hard times. We certainly wouldn’t reach the point of taking our own life.
The early Christians had that kind of faith. With no hesitation, Stephen, the first Deacon and martyr, clearly stated his faith before the Sanhedrin knowing full well the consequences. “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.'” (Acts 7:55-56)
Though it cost him his earthly life, Stephen had faith enough to know that God would receive him with open arms and he would be safe. Even as he was being stoned he asked that God not hold the sins of those throwing the stones against them.
The early Church saw many martyrs who willingly gave their lives rather than deny their faith in God. They saw that the rewards of faith far outweighed the sin of denying that faith. Even today, there are martyrs throughout the world, being punished, imprisoned and dying for their faith. As with most things of God, the national and international press tends to ignore these events. But they occur with far too much frequency in many countries around the world. Even in a country such as the United States, where the constitution promises the freedom of expression of religion, there are those who would take that away. They want to claim a right to “freedom from religion”, whatever that might mean. In many ways we should feel sorry for them. It must be difficult to live in a world where there is nothing greater than oneself to rely upon. I can’t imagine not being able to turn to God; to thank Him for His many blessings and to ask His continued blessing and grace.
How do we regain the faith of a child? By truly accepting God as our Father and knowing that He will always be there for us. We need to reach a level of trust that assures us that, regardless of what happens, God is on our side. He will protect us, shelter us, comfort us. That doesn’t mean we will not have trials and tribulations, but it does mean that our reward will be great when these sufferings are over and we enter into His kingdom. It also means we have a mighty partner in our efforts to overcome those trials. We must give up the concerns of this world and concentrate on the glory of the next.
This does not mean, however, that we have no responsibility for ourselves and our lives. We must willingly turn to God and accept the help He provides. He will always be there, waiting to help; hoping to help. But we must make the decision to ask for and then to accept that help. Even though the path He would have us walk may not be the path we would chose, we must live for Him and follow where He leads. Christ died for us, we must die to our sins if we are to develop the kind of faith He desires. We must look to God with the faith of that young girl who willing threw herself into thin air, fully confident that God will catch us just as the priest caught her.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalms 26:1)