“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The Lord Jesus speaks about our being converted, but says we are to “become as little children.” While many consider themselves converts to Christianity or converts to Orthodoxy, few think about being converted to become a child. Most probably see their conversion as them leaving their childhood faith behind and making an informed adult decision and choice. And, when converts forget what Christ said about becoming as little children, they err and become know-it-alls, lacking in humility and love, and judgmental zealots. They think they know everything that is wrong with their former churches as well as with the Orthodox Church.
We have to think about why Christ our Lord wanted us to “become as little children”? What is it about a child that Christ wants us to imitate or incorporate into our lives? And it is worth noting that He said we are to be child-like NOT childish. Perhaps he wants us to have no guile, or be innocent not jaded or cynical. Hopeful, trusting and humble enough to recognize my small role in the big scope of life. As a child I am in need of the wisdom that my elders have to offer me.
However, we also must take note of St Paul’s words: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). So, though we are to convert and become as a little child, there is also a time in our life when we have to behave as an adult and not allow ourselves to continue in immature thinking. That is not the part of being childlike to which the Lord was calling us – He wasn’t telling us to become dependents forever, to fail to grow up (like Peter Pan) or to fail to become responsible for our own behavior.
Starets Macarius of Optino gives us a warning about being a child so that we can enter God’s Kingdom. Children also need some guidance in learning to love. This is why St Paul’s words about thinking like a child are a needed compliment to Christ’s words. St Macarius says:
Have great care of your children. We live at a time when much freedom is given to the expression of thought, but little care is taken that thoughts should be founded on truth. Teach them to love truth. (RUSSIAN LETTERS OF SPIRITUAL DIRECTION 1834-1860, p 94)
There is a good part to being child-like which Christ wants us to embrace in our lives and we need to incorporate that childlikeness in our spiritual lives. However, a child’s thinking is immature and lacking some information and often lacking wisdom. So, a child also needs to be formed and informed in order to make wise decisions. There is part of being a child we need to grow out of, and part we need in order to approach God, neighbor and the world with the love and joy which Christ taught us.