A few years ago my youngest son and I sat together one evening watching his favorite channel: The Cartoon Network. It wasn’t the reruns of Bugs Bunny or Huckleberry Hound from my own youth, but it was entertaining enough.
After a few laughs my son reached up with his small hands and rubbed the skin around my eyes and temples, burrowing his chubby fingers into the ever deepening crows’ feet that now mark my face. Then he asked, “What are those?” My laughing stopped immediately. Despairingly, I said, “Those are wrinkles.”
A few days later he and I were buzzing down the highway, he sitting in his car seat in the back of our family SUV. Out of nowhere he said to me, “Dad, I don’t have any ‘sprinkles.’” I looked in the rearview mirror to find him carefully rubbing his temples.
“Why do I have ‘sprinkles?’” I asked my observant son, bracing myself for the answer. Surely if he has noticed my wrinkled face he has also made note of my now graying beard, expanding love handles, and aching joints. But his answer was a pleasant, most unexpected surprise. He said, “Because you need ‘sprinkles’ to help you smile.”
One of my favorite pictures of Jesus has him seated on a big Palestinian rock. The artist, unknown to me, has surrounded him with smiling, playful children. The Son of God, head thrown back in laughter, is smothered with little ankle-biters of all nationalities, races, and colors.
That portrait comes right off the pages of the Gospels. People brought their children to Jesus to be held and blessed by him. Jesus’ disciples, with no tolerance for such immature distractions, began running off the children and their parents. Jesus rebuked the disciples strongly, and readily invited the children into his arms.
He also took the opportunity to be instructive. He said, “Unless you become as a little child you will not enter the kingdom of God.” Strangely, my son reminded me of that picture and the words of Christ, and as my “sprinkles” grow deeper each year, I try to hang on to this lesson.
Because we grown-ups worry over so many things: Our finances, politics, the stock market, the price of gas, the escalating cost of living. We fret over our weight, our wrinkles, and what sags or sways on our ageing bodies. We are layered with barnacles to protect ourselves from others and the world. In the process, we miss out on so much. Children have no such concerns or inhibitions.
Blissfully, they soak up every moment of happiness. They quickly forget pain and heartache. They deal honestly and lovingly with those around them. They collapse into their beds at night, exhausted, having lived another day to its fullest. And they awake in the morning, slate wiped clean, ready for a new adventure.
Children attack life with the passion of a zealot, the love of heaven, the forgiveness of a saint, and the nakedness of an open book. Jesus was right to point us toward the little people in our lives. How I wish we adults could live with the same state of mind!
My wish can become reality, for a child, regardless of age, is one who is still learning, and still trusting, still relying upon God. A child is one who still has an impressionable mind and a pliable will. So one can live as a child whether he or she is seven or seventy years of age.
Brennan Manning is right: “Heaven will be filled with preschoolers. No adults allowed.” Heaven is only for those still in diapers; only for those who still have a sense of openness and adventure; only for those who still reach out to touch the faces of those they love.
It is only for those with the openness and sincerity of youth; only for those who will allow God to actually do something with them. Heaven waits for those children of all ages who possess a curious, fun, welcoming smile – even a smile surrounded by “sprinkles.”