Faith Like a Child

June 07, 2021 | perspective | Kevin McGill

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven — Matthew 18:3

Recently I was reading The Berenstain Bears Go to the Dentist to my 4-year-old daughter. She was fascinated by the part when Sister Bear placed her tooth under the pillow and received a dime from "the tooth fairy" when she woke up.

My daughter asked me, "Are tooth fairies real?"

I said, "What do you think?"

She said, "I think they are real. How else do you get the money?"

I said, "Good point! Do you want to know if they are real, or would you like it to remain a mystery?"

She said, "You know they are real! How do you know that? Where does she live?"

I said, "Well I have never met a tooth fairy, but I do know if they are real or not. Would you like to know, or would you like to keep it a mystery?"

She said, "Mystery!" Then with a mind full of curiosity and awe, she pondered again, "I wonder where the tooth fairy lives ... ."

Nate Staniforth has made a career enchanting people with sophisticated illusions. In his book Here Is Real Magic: A Magician's Search for Wonder in the Modern World, Staniforth says, “Magicians have known for ages that one of the best ways to feel wonder yourself is to give it to someone else. It’s like love in that way. You don’t sneak into your child’s room late at night and secretly swap the hard-won tooth under their pillow for a coin because you want your children to believe in the tooth fairy. You do it to give them the experience of magic. It’s about enchanting them rather than deceiving them, and you can do that anywhere."

Seeing the world through children’s eyes is one of the gifts of being a parent. Through their imagination I can be the captain of a pirate ship on the playground. I can transform a stick on the ground into a sword and battle “dragons.” Imagination and childlike wonder are the ways children work out the complexities of life. Giants, pirates and dragons are not insurmountable odds; they are challenges to overcome.

Author Neil Gaiman says, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” Children seem to know this is inherently true. Somehow no matter how bad things may appear, they have faith it will all work out in the end.

But what happens when children lose their innocence and face “dragons” in the reality of life — the dragon of a failed marriage, the dragon of cancer, the dragon of disappointment? Children are beautiful because of their natural purity and wonder, but what happens when children become adults? What if growing up isn’t about teaching children to become more adultlike but is actually about helping children retain their childlike faith and sense of wonder?

Jesus said, “Except that we become as little children we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” I think part of the reason for that is the kingdom of heaven is full of wonder and possibilities. As adults we can be overcome by challenges: financial pressures, physical limitations and the general disillusionment of life.

But childlike faith is limitless. Even in the face of disappointment it never gives up hope. It’s about not settling for easy answers. It’s about the mystery and the search for meaning. Childlike faith is about overcoming actual “dragons.” Childlike faith never stops searching, dreaming and imagining new possibilities.

Nate Staniforth explains how to maintain that childlike faith:

"I think you grow up twice. The first time happens automatically. Everyone passes from childhood to adulthood, and this transition is marked as much by the moment when the weight of the world overshadows the wonder of the world as it is by the passage of years. Usually you don't get to choose when it happens. But if the triumph of this weight over wonder makes the first passage into adulthood, the second is the rediscovery of that wonder despite sickness, evil, fear, sadness, suffering — despite everything. And this second passage doesn't happen on its own. It's a choice, not an inevitability. It is something you have to deliberately find and value and protect. And you can't just do it once and keep it forever. You have to keep looking.”