“I can’t ever remember a time when my mother held me,” said my white haired neighbor.
With tears rising up in my eyes I told her, “I can’t hold you, but I can hold your hand.” The years flashed before me as I stroked her hand. In my lifetime, Mary has always had white hair. She has always sat on the porch in the evening and fed the neighborhood pets. She has always been old to me, even though she really wasn’t that old, until recently.
Mary turned 80 in March. Practically over night, this spry happy woman doing for others and minding the business of the neighborhood declined in health. “I want happy Mary back” was my plea for her to fight.
In-between naps in her dark, stuffy living room she dwells on her miserable childhood. From bits and pieces of stories she has told me over the years, her mother was an invalid and married to a tyrant. Her remarks about her childhood hold much more sadness than I ever remember. It almost seems as though the wounds are as fresh as if they happened yesterday, not 70 years ago.
I don’t know specifically why her childhood haunts her. Was it the struggle of growing up during the Depression with a miserly father? Was it the unloving, invalid mother or the responsibility of taking care of siblings? Was it seeing her oldest brother run away because of the father’s tyranny? Were there unimaginable abuses taking place? The things people didn’t talk about back then. I’ll never ask. I am not sure I want to know. Whatever this dear woman went through as a child still haunts her in her final days. It shouldn’t be this way. 60 years with a good husband and 4 kids didn’t erase the painful memories in a little girl’s mind or enable Mary to forgive her parents for her wounded heart.
Mary had an adversary that wasn’t interested in protecting her heart or letting her enjoy her childhood. Whether physical or spiritual, the enemy seeks to kill the heart. The enemy knows that children are dangerous. Jesus speaks so highly of them in Matthew 18:3-4. “I tell you the truth unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Children are well-known for their ability to have great faith. The kind of faith that forgives no matter what, trusts without proof and dreams big dreams. Childlike faith is a key to the kingdom. It is the pulse of the body of Christ. It is the treasure of each child.
Knowing this the enemy seeks to kill and destroy the hearts of children because then he cripples their childlike faith. The evil one keeps after the children, raping them, bullying them, verbally crushing their dreams, maiming them with disease, speaking lies by using his evil cohorts, but also parents, teachers, friends, even preachers.
Mary is full bitterness and unforgiveness toward her parents because of what happened to her as a child. Her heart was broken. I wonder how life would have been different if someone had stood up to protect her heart. How do you protect a child’s heart and ultimately their childlike faith? How does the adult reclaim what was lost? In my own quest to answer these questions I read and studied 3 books with very similar themes.
In The Allure of Hope, The Sacred Romance and The Journey of Desire the importance of living from the heart is addressed. We cannot give up on the desires of our heart. We cannot think of ourselves as foolish for having goals that others think are silly or unattainable. We cannot let the hardships and abuses of our life stop us from living life with hope and wonder and an open heart.
Jesus said, “whoever humbles himself like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” I don’t know what being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven entails, but it is probably something incredible. I don’t want to miss out on anything God is offering. So if this means taking a risk to see the desires of my heart fulfilled, then I am going to take a chance. If it means facing my “demons” or tackling some “issue”, then I am going to do it. Because of this, I am becoming like that humble child, who doesn’t lose heart or faith.
For the adult as well as the child, childlike faith encompasses a persons ability to trust without question the actions and motives of God. We might wonder “why”, but we need to eventually come back to “Not my will, but your will be done.” Childlike faith wakes you up in the morning ready for anything, expectant of discovery and exploration, but also content to wait for the adventure to start in his time. Childlike faith dreams big because we have a big God and the worst he can say is “No.” All of this wild and reckless heart pounding faith is lived out without the shame of appearing foolish. Besides I think I would rather look a little reckless and know I am trusting God, than be empty of dreams and trust no one.
However, living with this kind of reckless faith is near impossible if the heart has been crushed like Mary’s was. A 5th grader was telling me that when she grows she doesn’t want to work for her father’s catering business. She wants to be a dancer. A year ago, I probably would have discouraged her from such a “silly” pursuit. If she stays true to her heart’s desire it could happen. The world needs dancers; she might be one of them. How crushing it would be for her little heart if her parents or I told her it isn’t a realistic goal or it is a foolish dream. In time, she may realize she would rather be a computer programmer and just dance for fun. Letting her sift through and discover on her own what she wants to do with her life will keep her heart whole.
In the news was the kidnap and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. What a beautiful, trusting child she was. She just wanted to help the man find his puppy. She had a noble and helpful heart. Children need to be protected because they are so trusting, I think of the little playmate that witnessed the kidnapping and so accurately described the perpetrator. How will this event affect her heart? What scars will she carry? How can we protect childlike faith in the face of such evil?
We need to remember we have an enemy that seeks to kill and destroy. Kill a child’s heart and you handicap him from ever being an adult with childlike faith. The heart enables a person to live with childlike faith. So in the face of evil we can’t lose heart. I hope Samantha’s friends and playmates are taught this.
Samantha’s violent death is evidence that this is a fallen world and sin abounds. We can try to prevent heartache, but it still happens. Traumatic childhood experiences just keep happening and they don’t go away. They embed themselves in our memories and come back uninvited. When these heart-hardening events of life happen, we must remember our enemy wants to kill our heart. We can’t let him win. Honestly, mourning, not sinning in our anger or hiding our feelings keeps the heart alive. Do not be afraid to feel or be broken because it comes with the territory of the heart.
Knowing, understanding and even expecting that your heart will break in life will actually keep the heart alive. If we commit to accepting that heartbreak is apart of life and not let hurt and disappointment force us in thinking it is easier not to care or hope or love. We cannot let children or ourselves say, “No” to heartbreak, because then we say “No” to living with our heart. We say, “No” to living with childlike faith. We say, “No” to being one of the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
We must learn to say, “Yes” to living with the heart. Say, “Yes” to fighting the enemy of our heart. Say, “Yes” to accepting all that God brings our way, the heart bursting and the heart breaking. In so doing, you keep your heart alive and live in childlike faith.
Happy Mary is back for the most part. After some time in the hospital she is on the road to recovery, back on the porch and feeding the neighborhood cats. She wanted to die because she didn’t want to see her husband die. She didn’t want her heart to feel pain again. He is still alive, and she still has more time to say, “Yes.”