[Jesus] called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3
Disney World’s magic kingdom is a big playground where children of every age can play.
I loved to play. From my earliest memories until I was in my twenties, play was life. Really. My plan from fifth grade was to be a gym teacher, but I got called to the ministry while I was working on my degree. When I got to seminary I had a really hard time finding anyone to play with. Everyone was so grown up. One seminarian would play catch with me in the parking lot. She was in clown ministry and a kid at heart herself. Another student joined me out in a rare D.C. snow to sled with the neighborhood children on the hill with the statue of John Wesley on his horse. But he was from California, it was freezing, and after fifteen minutes he needed a heat infusion. My soon-to-be husband and I would play tennis and hike, but with marriage came pastoring churches and having children, resulting in a whole lot more responsibility and challenges. I started to get serious. I figured it was expected. It didn’t help that I looked like Peter Pan.
Almost thirty years later, with cracked molars from smiling with clenched teeth, I found myself in the magic kingdom. I found myself. After the first day, I wanted to play again. By the third day I was laughing out loud, hanging off dinosaurs, eating mouse-eared ice cream, and giving cast members high-fives. I was, you may remember, sick as a dog for the entire trip. Ridiculous. Grow up!
When I got home, I didn’t want to take off my magic band. I ordered a pair of big fluffy mouse hands. I didn’t know what to do with myself. How do I do this in a serious world with serious problems? The Lord was talking to me already about the Heavenly Kingdom being an even more wonderful reality than that famous place in Florida. What’s a pastor-type to do? Wear ears to worship?
Last Sunday as I was driving to church, praying for everyone and everything, trying to hear the message for the day, gearing myself up for my job, the Lord starts talking to me about playing and the Heavenly Kingdom. He tells me that I get to play with people I love every Sunday. I get to play with drums. I get to play with the children. I get to play with God! I get to worship and move and sing and dance (such as I do) and see people healed and speak the joy of God’s Word. I get to do this. This is fun! I had never even thought about it all like that before. I am too serious; too focused on doing the right thing and not messing up; too burdened by the weight of everything. But God wants us – wants me – to be joy-filled, light, contagious with His love and Kingdom life.
Now that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for tears. If I trip over a chipmunk and sprain my ankle, or fall off a roller coaster relationship and my heart breaks, even in the magic kingdom there will be tears. But to travel through this life without joy, without peace, without love and thanks in our hearts – after all that Jesus has done and is still doing for us; that may be serious religion, but it is not Christianity. It is not the Kingdom of God.
I’m still figuring out how to do this. It took me over 30 years to “grow up” and it may take me a while to become like a child again – maybe for the first time.