I turned twenty last week. People say it’s a change, a milestone, so it’s good to remember Jesus turned twenty once. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness” (Heb. 4:15). But Jesus is also “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Years can’t weigh on him. And maybe his agelessness is an incommunicable attribute, but it reminds me not to get bound up by how many years I’ve lived. Jesus isn’t charting my height on a yardstick; he’s looking into my heart. To the disciples who felt old and wise, he said: “Turn and become like children” (Matt. 18:3). To the Christians who acted young and foolish, he commanded: “Leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1).
“God wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head,” C.S. Lewis said, and at twenty, I find a resting place here— where I can study scriptural doctrines, then play in the creek in the woods.
My nephew is still new to the world. Sun and breezes make him squint, and this place isn’t just foreign to him, but he looks to his parents to keep him alive in it. Barrett’s body fits between my neck and waist as I rock him into sleep, propping my hand under his lolling head.
“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said (Matt. 18:4).
Grownups like me have trouble getting into the kingdom. We tend to be too big, too hard, too puffed with facts about Jesus so that our heads can’t fit through the door. But to a baby, the world is new, the winds scary, and the only way to rest is to curl up against their Papa’s chest.
“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me”
The gospel is a great and marvelous thing. Every year I get older, I see Jesus as lifted up higher, myself as littler— and that’s a grace. That, I’m learning, is maturity. John the Baptist said of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), so Jesus said of John: “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11).
Where culture expects me to grow up and out of childhood, Jesus calls me to grow up into it.
“[We] are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
See, to grasp the gospel— to be sharpened and seasoned by it — I need a kid’s imagination, not because it isn’t real, but because it’s too real for me to see with my adult eyes.
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age… But as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear has heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him’”
(1 Cor. 2:6, 9).
There are magical and marvelous things about Jesus I’m too small to understand. But to embrace my littleness is to be embraced by him. Little is the size he’s looking for.
To embrace my littleness is to be embraced by him.
And yet that doesn’t mean I don’t grow, don’t read, don’t take classes and ransack my Bible to dig up what’s true. Childlikeness is not the same as childishness. Paul wrote to the bickering Corinthians:
“I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1).
“Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20).
Jesus frees me to turn twenty. To get wiser, older, grayer. To memorize pages of Psalms and research substitutionary atonement, but to also remember that the most Marvelous Thing in scripture isn’t something I can fully see, know, or research. A grownup’s understanding should share the table with a child’s faith— “an assurance of things hoped for, [a] conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
Elsie, Hudson, and Bennett take me by the hands and draw me out of the house, away from my books and classes, down through the gate to Papa’s creek. We fish for leaves with sticks, then sit on moss in a clearing and roast our catches over a fire. The woods rustle and sing. Hudson puts a finger to his lips and looks hard into the trees.
“What is it?” I whisper.
“I sink— I sink it’s a tiger.”
“Aren’t you scared?”
He looks down and stops whispering. “Yeah. In the Jungle Book, there’s a tiger named Sher Khan. He’s mean to the man-cub.”
“Well, I don’t think there are any tigers in these woods.”
“Yeah,” he looks up, “I sink it’s a wood-petter.” He brushes himself off and marches away.
“Where are you going, bud?”
“To catch the tiger.”
In twenty years, Jesus has led me to a place where I can fit against his chest again, where my twenty-year-old head meets my little-girl heart, where knowing facts makes room for knowing him.
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:20).
At twenty, I think I’m finally old enough to know there are no tigers in the woods and little enough to chase them anyway.
“When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis