The Kingdom Belongs to These
Keeping our childlike adventure, curiosity, and intuition
By Addison Hudgins
They were the epitome of peace. Mother and child, gently submerged, floating underwater in a quiet pool. Holding her baby’s hands, the mother’s hair splayed behind her and her lips curved in a smile. Baby appeared equally happy and content. I wondered how this child, not even 1 year old yet, could look so at home in a setting where many 6- and 7-year-olds (and even some 26-, 36-, and 46-year-olds) flail and splash desperately.
Then the narrator’s voice interrupted the movie scene, informing me that children are born with an instinct to hold their breath underwater. Once they grow to about 1 year old, they learn that being underwater can be dangerous. At this point they must relearn their natural intuition.
As I heard this I wondered how many other instincts children must relearn as they grow. When Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven belongs” to children,1 perhaps this loss of instinct and consequential relearning is the core of what He meant. We are all born with intuitions that Jesus intends for us to retain, even as we mature.
When I was a little girl, my friends and I would often embark on a different “adventure” each day. Equipping our bicycle baskets with toy compasses, maps, and sandwiches, we would travel “far and wide” to the local park or to a small patch of woods. There, a treasure trove of imaginary worlds awaited us. We could be explorers finding a new world and rescuing it from evil and ruin. We could be children in the circus, living on the road and performing musical shows every evening. We could be any strain of magical, make-believe character which seems so romantic to the child’s eye.
At 5 I had a notebook in which I wrote and illustrated stories I created. At 7 I designed and printed my own weekly newsletter detailing the updates of my small world. I titled it The Good Harvest Gazette named after the area where I lived, and passed it around to neighbors and friends. At 13 I spent my study halls in school completing my very first novel (of a story and world that now seem silly to my “mature” mind). I had drive and passion. I sought adventure. When I wanted to accomplish or create something—I took initiative and did it.
But then, at 18, I found myself spending evenings chatting aimlessly with friends online or mindlessly watching TV. Sure, I had ideas for stories. I had visions for change. But I lost the childlike sense of urgency and adventure. When I was a small child, the entire world was open to me. As I have begun to enter adulthood, I have observed more and more the sneaking tendency adults have to let time get away from doing the things they long to do.
Children know their true passion. (Even when they can’t voice it.) Children are driven by passion, which is not something we should be quick to discount. Writer Frederick Buechner has said that “the place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”2
Adults, at times, discount passion in the name of logic and order. They smile at the imaginative world and creative initiative of children, but too many do not recognize its true value. We all—adults and children—need time to dream and play and create, to exercise what makes us feel vibrant and whole. In doing so, we are one step closer to the childlike sense of adventure that Jesus told us to have.
A favorite question of children is “why?” Why do we wash our hands before supper? Why do we go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday? Why does the frog croak; why is the sun bright? This yearning for answer is a deep human need that children do not suppress. They are born believing that no dumb question exists. The idea that asking why is foolish is not a natural part of us—it is learned.
As youth, the “why” question is often dampened out of us. We are instructed to not ask questions. But Jesus wants us to seek.3 We do not find Him by sitting back and asking passively. We must dig. Like architects on an excavation, we are always uncovering new truth—sometimes truth that we do not immediately understand. For understanding, we have to dust off what we find—which can take time—before we really grasp the significance of the precious item we have found.
To become like little children is to maintain our joy and purity in the midst of a dark and evil world. It is to “be in the world but not of the world.”4 It is to challenge those who try to repress our instinctive curiosity and thirst for answers—and to simply not bow to those who discourage us from seeking.
Madeleine L’Engle—author of dozens of books, both for adults and children—is quoted as saying that when she had something to say in a book that was too difficult for adults, she wrote it for children.5
Children are open-minded. They have affinity for growth. Children do not try to grow; they grow because they cannot help it. Their desire for adventure and their insatiable curiosity lead naturally to an open mind—a growing mind.
I remember that when I was a very young child, I often felt distaste for certain individuals without knowing why. Logically, my feelings were inexplicable. But time and again my instincts proved true. Over the course of weeks, months, even years, the persons I felt uncomfortable with, and even in danger around, revealed their true characters of dishonesty and deceitfulness. This trusting of the inner compass is not something to look down on. Childlike open-mindedness allows children to obey their intuition. Too often adults “logically” reason away the voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Heaven Belongs to Such as These”
“Let the children alone,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”6Such as these—those who explore, seek, and listen boldly, intently, and open-mindedly.
We are born with tools to find Jesus. For our Father creates the instincts in us that best ensure our eternal safety, as well as our peace in the midst of a world that causes many to flail in desperate fear.
It is to those who maintain their childlike adventure, curiosity, and intuition that the kingdom of Heaven belongs.
1 Matt. 19:14, NASB. Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
2 Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 119.
3 Jer. 29:13, NASB.
4 See John 15:19.
5 Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet (New York: HarperCollins, 1972), p. 198.
6 Matt. 19:14, NASB.
Addison Hudgins attends Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States, where she is studying English and journalism, with a music minor. She wrote this piece as a summer intern for Adventist World.