Love as Attention: You Must Become Like Children to Enter the Kingdom of God

Jesus famously declared that we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. Like many of Jesus' sayings, the statement is enigmatic. How exactly are we to become like children? What characteristic are we supposed to focus on and emulate? 

A few years ago I wrote about what struck me most about children during a season of helping with afterschool childcare. 

As you're likely aware, watching children is very hard work. Children can be irritating and boring. They can be oppositional, sneaky, demanding, loud and sullen. But there are also so many joys in spending time with children.

I've always been fascinated with how Jesus paid attention to children. Jesus was good with kids. I think there's something very important about that. A sign. I've always said, "The best test of character I know of is watching how you treat children."

If I had to hazard a guess about what Jesus was getting at about becoming like children, I think children teach us the basics of being a human being. Children want you to bear witness, to behold, to see them. The requests you get over and over again are, "Look at me!" and "Watch this." and "Come here and see this." Most of what you do in being with children is beholding them. Seeing. Watching. Bearing witness.

Which requires two things. Presence and attention. You have to be there, and you have to have your eyes open.

And as I practice these skills in being with children I'm made aware that I'm being reeducated all over again in how to be a human being.

For what we want most from each other is presence and attention. That's the basic language of love. But we so rarely offer each other this gift. Mostly because we are all, at various times, sullen, oppositional, demanding, and boring. So we look away. And we lose track of each other.

And eventually, we discover that we've left each other all alone, and that love is in short supply.

Presence and attention. That's what I think made Jesus so good with children, and what he meant in looking to children as guides in spiritual formation. Attention is the economy of love. 

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply