I remember one spring when my family first moved into the house in which we currently live. The backyard was a blanket of yellow dandelions. I absolutely hated it.
One Saturday morning, as I was planning to treat the lawn to get rid of the weeds, our 5-year-old Caroline gazed intently out the window. I wasn’t immediately sure what she was looking at, but then it became obvious as she said in the most innocent and exuberant voice, “Those are the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, Daddy!”
I was completely and utterly caught off guard. Caroline was exactly right. Why did I not see it that way myself? How could I have been looking at something so unimaginably and miraculously beautiful the entire time, but yet been so viscerally disgusted by the sight of it?
Unlike me, Caroline had not accumulated years and years of baggage that influenced and shaped how she viewed the world, or how she was experiencing her young life. Caroline was able to see a world surprising her with the blessing of tiny, yellow flowers in her very own yard. She could see beauty clearly with the eyes of her heart, while my distorted lenses saw nothing but a hideous curse that had to be dealt with.
Maybe that’s why most children have an easier time finding those places where heaven and earth overlap, where they experience perfect freedom and perfect love, because they are not so battle-torn and war-weary. They still have eyes that are open wide and that can still clearly see the world without the fractured lenses that distort how we see people, situations and the world around us.
The truth is that children are still open to the possibility of awe and wonder, the inherent goodness in all people and things, and the sense that the only moment that matters is the one they are living in at that exact moment.
It’s no wonder Jesus said unless we all become like little children we will never get to experience this great embrace of heaven and earth; we will never be able to presently enter into the perfect freedom and perfect love of God. Becoming like a child opens our hearts and awakens our lives to awe and wonder, allows us to rediscover the inherent goodness in all people and things, and births in us a sense that the only moment that matters is this moment right now.
But is this really even possible?
It’s certainly one thing to be told that each day is grace, full of opportunity, and an invitation into something so much greater, but quite another to actually be able to enter into that kind of life. Sure, the dandelion story is beautiful and it is a really nice sentiment, but there is simply too much wreckage and too much heartache around us for that kind of unrealistic idealism. I get it.
But while we hold together the tension of smiles and tears, the tension of joy and pain, the tension of celebration and mourning, the tension of happiness and sadness, the tension of life and death, we are still, even now, being wholly embraced and completely enveloped in the perfect love of God through it all.
We live in a world that explodes with great artistry and creativity. It is a world that offers limitless freedom and opportunity. It is a world that flows with the greatest expressions of love and goodness. It is a world with incomparable life and beauty. And we have been invited, to not just see it with new eyes, but begin living in it presently and then helping others see it and experience it as well.
A few weeks ago, my 4-year-old son and I went on our first overnight backpacking adventure. This trip with Will was important to me because I wanted it to be a good experience for him the first time out.
We drove an hour away from our house and ended up in the Hoosier National Forest in south-central Indiana. This area is beautifully wooded and hilly and perfect for a first-timer. I could tell that Will was excited based on how much he talked for the entire hour that it took us to drive there. He peppered me with one million, 4-year-old questions that ranged from what we were going to eat to how we were going to brush our teeth. He was so pumped.
When we pulled into the parking area he was already out of his car seat and standing by the car in wild excitement. He put on his jacket and asked me to help him with his backpack. I helped him and then put on my own backpack. We were off. It was a cool spring evening, not quite sunset, and everything was exploding to life around us. It was absolutely perfect. Will knew it as well.
Every 30 seconds for the next hour, Will kept yelling out, “For heaven’s sake! This is soooo awesome! For heaven’s sake! This is soooo awesome!”
Leave it to a child to size up nature’s beauty and perfectly sum it up in words that not only they, but everyone else can also grasp.
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website, brandonandress.com.