I watch as my boys scamper through the obstacle course. Foot after foot, knee after knee, hand over hand. Then, suddenly, down goes my youngest. I rush to help him, my heart beating wildly. He flashes a wild grin. No fear, this one.
My sons live life with a verve that is both heartwarming and terrifying. My friends don't know that I used to be just like them, living life with courage and a willingness to risk. I long for that childlike readiness to step out, to live the bold life God envisions for His followers.
Long ago, when the Lord promised He would help Joshua, He required him to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9). And that theme echoes throughout Scripture. God "gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Yet life is difficult, and fear is real. I often wonder: What happened to my sense of adventure? When did I become timid? When did the world's challenges and opportunities become too risky? When did God — or more accurately, my perception of Him — become any less God?
A child again
Every day, my boys show me what it means to have that bold spirit of a child, giving me a glimpse of what it is that the Father invites me to become. As Jesus reminds us, children possess and reveal the characteristics of God's kingdom. Indeed, He teaches us that we must become like them (Matthew 18:3). This is an unexpected and priceless gift of parenting: We have a ringside seat to the qualities Jesus emphasized to His disciples, the characteristics that the Lord desires to see in us. Courage. Faith. Joy.
No, kids aren't perfect. Every parent knows this. They shout "Mine!" at a very early age, often behaving like tiny dictators. But when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven being made up of children, He's not talking about childishness, but the natural, spontaneous traits of childhood. Children risk, and they trust, and they are transparent. And they do all of this because they understand who they are in relationship to their parents.
Our kids live all in, and through them God shows parents how to do the same.
Kids know they're not in control
My son Blaise demonstrates absolute confidence in his ability to do anything that his older brother can do. But there is a condition: Mom or Dad can't be far away. Blaise can live courageously because he recognizes that he's not really in control.
Children — from the reckless to the timid — are free to enjoy every moment of childhood when they know that the big details of life are entrusted to their parents.
Yes, kids sometimes chafe under our authority, but it is also enormously freeing for them. Research shows that children thrive within clear structure and boundaries. One study revealed how kids played more boldly and confidently at recess when their playground was visibly enclosed. But when there was no fence, the children stayed close, playing more timidly. Without boundaries, the children were somehow ... less free.
That truth is worth sitting with. We can live courageously because we know someone else is in charge. The God who created the universe is at the helm.
How often do we exchange relationship with and dependency on God for the appearance of control — control of situations, of our lives, of our own children? And in all of that striving, we forget what it means to lean on the One who is faithful.
It's a little ironic: Knowing that we're not in control allows us to live boldly in the love of the Lord. It is only in His arms that we are free to be what He created us to be.
Kids are rooted in love
If you were to ask my boys, the best place in the whole wide world is "the bounce place." The Tiger Bounce entertainment center is a mecca for moms of young boys, offering enormous bounce houses, slides and trampolines. The place promises loads of fun with a bonus: guaranteed afternoon naps and restored souls for moms.
Blaise has become somewhat notorious at the bounce place. He fully occupies whatever space he is given, taking possession of it, seeing, touching, living. And then, when the morning is done and it's time for lunch, or when he's crashed into a mat too hard, he returns to my arms.
Children can live all-in lives because they are rooted and grounded in love. Their faith is in someone bigger than themselves.
We adults often have a catalog of excuses that we draw on when the Lord calls us to live courageously. For me, insufficiency reverberates through my parenting. I often feel ill-equipped and exhausted. Who am I to speak life into young souls and discipline with consistency? Who am I to model the Father's love? Who am I to raise these boys to know the Lord? Some days it's all I can do just to keep them safe.
"Who am I, Lord?" we ask. God answers a different question. When we — or Moses, Gideon or Jeremiah — ask, "Who am I?" God shifts the focus to himself. He doesn't reassure us with our past accomplishments or even remind us of the talents and gifts He has given us. Rather, the answer to any doubt is always the same: "I will be with you."
Jesus promises that He will be with us all of our days and that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Our childlike task is to be rooted in that love — to listen as the Lord quiets our hearts and speaks love into them.
Kids dream big
A child's world is one dream, one possibility after another.
"Mama, this car can fly."
"Mama, I'm going to be a police officer when I grow up."
"Mama, I'm going to stay with you always."
As parents, it's easy to become so immersed in the day to day that we forget how to dream. We act as though life is to be trudged through until we meet Jesus face to face. Too often we fail to believe the Lord's grand promise that He is present with us this very instant. We forget that He calls us to live wholly and completely now.
When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven being made up of children, I think He is, in part, remembering a child's exuberant embrace of the impossible. Children are not yet conditioned to dream only reasonable, readily attainable dreams. And of course, the impossible is precisely what God makes possible (Mark 10:27). When kids dream, they are living out God's image in them — the image of a Creator who made us all with an immense capacity for dreams.
Children dive into life with an explorer's mindset. They're unafraid to dream because they are innately curious. They don't worry about what they don't know. They dream large because they aren't afraid to be wrong and make mistakes.
Their bold lives show me what it means to live. And as I watch my little explorers boldly face the world, I feel the Lord's smile of pleasure, and I hear Him whisper the old promise to me: "Go in this might of yours." And I know I can go, because He is with me.
Erin Hawley is an author, lawyer and associate professor at the University of Missouri.