Everyone has a favorite story. For one of the toddlers in my daycare class, it’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” This sweet little curly-haired girl can be found multiple times a day carrying that book and tugging at my hand so I will sit down and she can settle in on my lap to look at it. No matter how many times we read it, she will squeal and point to the same pictures with delight. She interrupts each page. For her, the story of that silly mouse never gets old.
Another little boy in my class loves the song from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He begs for it to be played. Whenever it comes on, he stops whatever he is doing just to get up and dance. At first he was the only one who loved it, but eventually his excitement was contagious. Now, a good handful of two-year-olds join him in dancing whenever it plays.
The one story they all adore is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. We sometimes watch it on a small screen for a few minutes when I need to prepare their plates for lunch, or set up their beds for nap time. We have watched it dozens of times now, but one of the children always runs right up to the screen to get his face as close as he possibly can to it. The class all laughs each time the little caterpillar “pops’ ‘ out of the egg, and at the end of the story, there is always a loud chorus of cheers for that caterpillar when he bursts out of his cocoon as a butterfly.
“He did it!” They like to yell.
I am not a mother, but God has still been using children to teach me lessons. When I used to think of “childlike faith”, I had chalked it up primarily to a faith without skepticism or questions. Yet, anyone who has spent more than five minutes with children knows that a “child without questions” sounds a bit like “a library without books”. Kids are full of questions, and when they encounter an unknown vegetable on their plate, they’re full of a hearty dose of skepticism too! For the most part, their questions don’t imply a lack of trust, but rather a familiarity and confidence in the adult they ask. After all, they fully expect their questions to be answered!
What then is a childlike faith? The most honest answer that I have found in my care for toddlers is that they all share an authentic and unbridled joy for the things and the people that they love. When their favorite song comes on, they dance. When their parent comes to pick them up, they run out to them and leap into their arms.
I like the fact that Jesus made a point to instruct his disciples to learn from children. We lose something when we grow up, and I have been convicted in realizing just how easy it is to squash the delight of children in our hurry to get things done, or even our annoyance when we just don’t want to hear the same story anymore or listen to the same song for what feels like the thousandth time. There are times when I see the curly-haired little girl toddling towards me carrying her book, and I walk the other way to finish some printing or clean up some stray toys before she catches me. There are times when I ask the boy with his nose to the screen to sit back down or I quiet down the class’ squeals of victory after the butterfly emerges from his cocoon. Yet, I wonder how many of these dismissals of joy start to add up over time. I wonder if they contribute to the aging of children into adults or the weakening of their childlike faith.
One day, when I was tempted to ask the boy with his nose to the screen to sit back down, I felt as though the Lord was asking me in my heart,
“When was the last time you wanted to get close to Me that badly?”
For a moment I sat and thought. I didn’t know.
When was the last time I had opened the Bible with the amount of joy that the curly-haired little girl has when she crawls onto my lap? When was the last time my heart or body wanted to drop everything and dance in worship of the Lord? Or when was the last time that prayer felt like running and leaping into the arms of a parent I was unashamed to love?
I believe this is childlike faith. I believe that as we grow up we can lose the exuberance and endurance of our delight, sometimes in the One who matters most. Maybe we have had our joy dismissed time and time again. Maybe we have been told to sit down. Maybe we have been separated in the pandemic from the ones who would make our hearts dance in worship. Maybe we have heard the resurrection story so many times that we forget to enjoy the beauty of it.
But I’ve found a lesson in faith from “The Hungry Caterpillar”, and the children who love it. Through the eyes of a child, when that cocoon is empty and that butterfly emerges in glory, it is always cause for celebration. So tomorrow when I go to work, I’m going to try to let the children press their noses close to what they love. I’m going to let them interrupt the pages as we read their favorite stories over and over and over again. And maybe it will get easier to let myself do the same, as I seek to re-learn my unhindered delight in what God has done for me – for us. Because at the end of the day, the tomb is empty. And perhaps the Church is just a collection of all of us, young and old, celebrating the same story together that’s been told endless times, saying just like my toddlers of their beloved butterfly, “He did it!”
This article (c) by Emily Bridgeman was first published in The Lois Project.
The Lois Project is a group of Christian women from various cities, countries, and church backgrounds who feel a common call to be disciples on mission in all seasons of life. Most of us find ourselves in a season of care-giving as mothers, grandmothers, mentors, or teachers.
Many of our writers are part of an international, ecumenical Christian community called The Sword of the Spirit. Although we come from Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant traditions we seek to foster unity among these groups and work together.
Top photo credit: very happy child at daycare, from Bigstock.com, © by oksun70 , Stock photo ID# 289556068
Emily is a toddler teacher at a KinderCare center. She and her husband live in New Jersey.