The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 9: Joy of a Child (3 of 3)
Children teach us flexibility, patience, and the ability to employ imagination on the fly. One afternoon Mary and I watched Hannah put on a ballet demonstration in the middle of the living room floor. She showed us the plié and the grand plié, followed by various numbered ballet positions. Watching this precocious five-year-old’s little body flowing with her own internal rhythm and joy brought tears to my eyes. She got hung up on ballet position #3, but instead of letting frustration stop her, she pursed her lips and said “I’ll just make it up.” So she started with #1, flowed into #2, made up #3, and moved directly into #4. I couldn’t speak for the longest time, even to tell her how proud I was of her. Mary found her voice before I did and praised Hannah for her beautiful demonstration. All I could do was nod in agreement.
Like I’ve said before, kids are like cats–they have one foot on earth and another in heaven (but with cats, the other two feet are in hell). I’m convinced Hannah feels the pulse of heaven continuously, and she lives, moves, and has her being in a joyfulness that definitely defies circumstances (like her sometimes grumpy daddy and her sometimes impatient mommy). When it comes to joy, Hannah is the teacher and we world-weary adults are the students–to watch her play house with her stuffed animals, to participate in an entire gymnastics competition outlined in chalk on the back porch, to try to outdo each other with made-up stories and improvised songs while in the car, to watch her entertain herself for hours with nothing but 300 pounds of sand in a weathered sandbox, a handful of old seashells, and a faded plastic shovel–that is a continual lesson on what it means to live out God’s Kingdom here on earth.
If only we beat-down adults could take it to heart and live the same way, wouldn’t life be so much more fun? So filled with joy? So much less serious and more heaven-like? Joy in playing, in making up stories, in camping out in the back yard after gorging ourselves on s’mores. Joy is in drawing and sculpting Play Dough creatures and building forts out of bar stools and blankets. Joy convinced me I need to let go of fear and follow God’s calling to write–I’m in the sweet-spot of my experience, and Hannah is a catalyst for creativity, goofiness, and just plain having fun. “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger,” King David wrote in Psalm 8:2 (NIV). What a better way to slap the devil silly than to belly laugh with a kid?
Jesus Himself said the Kingdom of God belongs to the children, or those who become child-like, not in immaturity and ignorance, but in wonder, trust, faith, and love. In His day, children were widely considered to be second-class citizens in many cultures, so placing a child amongst Jesus and His disciples could be construed as offensive. No wonder the disciples rebuked the people when they brought their kids to Him. But Jesus was in the business of being offensive, peeling away layers of legalism to expose the underlying truth to free His children–all of His children–from the oppression of religiosity and the destructiveness of sin. Allowing little children to be brought to Him illustrated God’s unconditional love regardless of age, affluence, or social status. It also provided Jesus a teaching moment to instruct the disciples and those listening in the eternal benefits of embracing playfulness, spontaneity, trust in the Father’s providence, imagination, creativity, and joy.
These are the keys to heaven, both here on earth and in our legacy beyond. Art Linkletter died in 2010 at age 97. He made a career out of imagination and with interacting with children. I’m convinced he knew the secret to joy. “I’ve been around long enough to develop some insights,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 2007, “Don’t retire, become a ‘seniorpreneur,’ keep a positive outlook, and maintain your sense of humor.” Amen, brother Art. Amen!
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes