A Kid at Heart

As a youngster, one of the activities I loved the most was riding a roller coaster at an amusement park.

Buckled up tightly in a rickety open boxcar, I would wait with great anticipation as we would all slowly make our climb up the railroad, only to then fear for my life as we’d plummet drastically and turn speedily through the course.

Childlike Enthusiasm 1What a rush I would feel each time I would ride one, living life so care-free.

Indeed, our childhood can feature such innocence and abandon, as we may often give in to natural impulses without any thought or restraint.

Over time, however, that purity can turn to feelings of bitterness, cynicism or apathy.

Case in point: Working as a high school Religion teacher, my classes consist of a mixed bag of religious viewpoints and attitudes, at least some of which fall into these categories.

While I do have students who carry a strong belief in God and practice their faith devotedly, one could expect many others hold at least some questions about God, His living presence and unconditional love all around us.

A notable number of kids can also bring into the classroom jaded mindsets, annoyed with activities and discussions that connect our society with the Almighty.

Certainly, this doesn’t seem to be a pattern restricted to adolescents, as various data reflect a striking amount of indifference, distance and entire opposition among young and middle-aged adults towards God and religion today.

No doubt, there are a plethora of reasons explaining this, not the least of which include personal experiences and preoccupation with activity in a secular culture.

But have you ever wondered what our society would be like if each of us maintained our original child-like openness about matters such as faith?

happy little child, baby girl laughing and playing in autumnI recently heard a song on a Christian radio station speaking to that point exactly, with the singer longing to return to his simplicity as a child, when his relationship with God was sure.

Back then, his soul was not tainted by materialism or envy of others.

He was not burdened by worries such as whether he’d have a prom date, the type of clothes he felt he must wear, the post-secondary education or job he’d obtain, what kind of house he’d live in or whether he’d be able to take a certain vacation while paying all of his bills on time.

His unabashed belief in the Good Shepherd was all that he needed to navigate through life’s challenges.

As a child, he was secure knowing – as the church hymn suggests – Jesus loved him, for the Bible told him so.

He had confidence about himself without fearing judgment from others around him, as he would proudly and with ease let that little light of Jesus shine from within him.

Only when he later began focusing on life without God did his dreams begin to vanish, his happy-go-lucky personality start to harden and his relationship with God come to experience a large divide.

As children, we find ourselves in need of direction and dependent on others to teach us; thus, our innocence propels us to follow God as our guide and our foundation.

Isn’t it funny how, as we grow older, our vulnerability and humility can give way to skepticism and ego, driving us away from the God who loves us and wants so much to be involved in our lives?

Let the little children come to mefor it is to such as these that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. (Matthew 19:14)

Childlike Enthusiasm 4Jesus calls us as His children, reminding us that it is with such zeal for our faith in Him that we will obtain salvation through Him in Heaven. (Mark 10:13-15)

And so, no matter our personal story, may we return to our roots of openness and embrace of God so we can feel and seize His warmth and know the depths of His love each day in our lives.

Then, with a renewed spirit for God – exuberant and trusting like that of a child – we can ready ourselves to have our lives take off for a thrill ride beyond imagination, the likes of which no theme park roller coaster could ever compare.

Giveaways Aplenty

In my Religious Education classes, my students and I talk often about the many ways God reveals His presence and love to us.

Not only does He do this in the form of miracles and other occurrences detailed in the Bible, but God provides proof of Himself in daily living all around us today.

An example of this comes in one of the stories I cover with my students.

We read about a young boy killed during a severe storm, taken from his dad’s embrace during wicked gusts of wind.

Throughout the ensuing heartache, the man, his wife and their daughter are comforted by their loving church community and the townsfolk who knew their son fondly.

On the one-year anniversary of their son’s death, the parents return to the scene of the twister, in effort to find closure and peace following the loss of their child.

It is at this time they see a bright and strong rainbow in the sky, and they immediately feel God’s support with their son reassuring them from Heaven.

It is signs like this that show us God’s boundless protection, along with His unconditional guidance so we can grow closer to Him.

While God certainly introduces Himself in the form of a natural phenomenon like a rainbow, He also offers Himself through the introduction of people in our lives.

Sometimes, these people are the least expected to serve as God’s gift to us.

For instance, as we also study in our Religion classes, a man named Francis of Assisi came to appreciate God’s full presence one day in encountering a leper.

St Francis & LeperThrough meeting and subsequently embracing the leper, Francis was freed of all that imprisoned him because of his judgment and discrimination.

It was through experiences like this that he would witness God around him always.

This man, who would later be known as St. Francis of Assisi, would come to embody complete concern for God’s creation, including nature, animals and humanity – especially the poor.

As many know, he also serves as inspiration for our current pontiff, Pope Francis, and his mission for the Roman Catholic Church.

Who would have figured much of this would be because of a gift God gave in the form of a leper?

Certainly, God can and does reveal Himself in other ways and in other individuals, including an innocent newborn.

Three weeks ago, my wife Catherine and I welcomed our third child into the world, our daughter Naomi.

Newborn BabyAs any parent could tell you, the miracle of life is nothing short of remarkable.

Holding Naomi and adoring her as she sleeps peacefully in my arms or wrapped so warmly in a bassinet, I can’t help but marvel at how God has entered our home and family once again.

The grin she gives with eyes closed or her tender grasp of my finger with her hand are but two examples of how God reaches out, simply wanting to be a part of our joy.

But just as He presents Himself in the form of our baby, God ultimately reveals His love to the world through his Son Jesus.

Born with humble beginnings in a manger, Jesus is later sacrificed unselfishly so that God’s world can have endless freedom. (John 3:16)

Jesus’ crucifixion and holy resurrection offer each one of us new and eternal life, providing rescue from our sin and salvation in His Kingdom of Heaven.

Resurrection 2How blessed we are to have a Lord who places everything and everyone at the center of His heart and at the forefront of every plan.

And so, on this Easter weekend, may we remember the countless ways God gives away His love freely to His creation, most notably through His Son, our saving Lord Jesus.

In churches all across the world tomorrow, we will acclaim a Paschal greeting of “Christ is Risen. Truly, He is Risen.”

Let us always acknowledge and proclaim how God is with us still, each day and all around us.

Truly, He is with us.

The Missing Piece

As a father of young children, it is always so gratifying to see our kids form their own ideas, discover talents or do something that causes us to burst into laughter. Watching them grow on a daily basis, learning and realizing so much, makes me marvel at their beauty as God’s creation.

An example of this comes from our son Isaac, who has amazed me recently through his love for puzzles.

It is such an experience to watch him sit down and take out a box of pieces and start putting them together.

Now, keep in mind he’s only three years old, so I don’t want to give the impression he’s assembling intricate 250-piece puzzles forming a picture of a horse crossing a tunneled bridge or a majestic waterfall with people paddling in their canoes.

I’m talking about puzzles of 30 to 50 pieces that, when all fit into place, show a cast of pirates with their treasure or a bunch of barnyard animals on a farm.

Just the same, Isaac has so much fun working on his puzzles and continues to grow adept at his skill the more he practices.

Missing Piece of Puzzle 3While we’re not yet at the point of tossing a football around or playing catch at a nearby baseball diamond, one of my favorite activities with Isaac has quickly become making a puzzle.

I love sitting down together on his bedroom floor or at the kitchen table, spreading all of the pieces out and watching him get to work – or, I should say, work his magic.

Both a test of patience and a moment of pride for me, it is remarkable to watch our son think through his options and problem solve with each piece.

He runs through several stages of emotion along the way, showing anything from a perplexed look on his face to one of determination.

So long as Isaac doesn’t give up, his persistence pays off, and he will blurt out with innocent excitement, “It fits!” or “We did it!”

Now, throughout the process of assembling a puzzle, I’ll occasionally remind him during his eager anticipation that there are still pieces missing and that the entire image is not yet complete.

After all, while he may be getting closer to achieving the final product, the puzzle is not finished until all of the pieces are in their place.

Similarly, we as humans are like a puzzle, needing all pieces to be in place for a perfect and whole fit.

Missing Piece of Puzzle 2Yet, how often do we struggle at finding that missing piece, trying to replace it with unsatisfactory or inadequate substitutes?

How often do we seek total happiness, striving to fill that hole in our hearts but without including God – the only one who can truly offer what we crave in life?

The linchpin of complete joy, so many of us deny ourselves a relationship with the Lord only to find something missing from our being, attempting to cover that void in our hearts with any and all alternatives.

Whether we have social status or a job title, wealth or material possessions, how many of us still deprive ourselves of fulfillment simply because we don’t invite God into the center of our lives?

A luxurious home or an employment promotion, fancy cars or stylish clothing, a trip to a hot vacation spot with friends, sports championships, top academic grades and acceptance into a prestigious college or university – we can easily fail to acknowledge how none of these or any other experience can afford a person lasting, genuine pleasure on their own.

Our faith teaches us that if we include God as the central part of our existence, we can find authentic joy and take on everything else as reward from Him, rather than replacement for Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

While some people may resort to unhealthy activities such as drugs, alcohol or promiscuous sex in their quest to be purely happy in life, even the most wonderful of events – such as graduation, falling in love or having a family – can still leave a person lacking meaning or feeling empty at the core if God is shut out.

Certainly, in those instances when we stray from God’s path, we can be reminded that, just as a puzzle can break – such as when Isaac’s little brother Hugh sometimes comes along and takes a few pieces – we can always start again.

Hole in HeartAfter all, God always forgives and always offers us a second chance to know and live with Him.

And so, amidst all of the busy goings-on of our daily living, let us be humble and disciplined enough to seek God in earnest, in order that we can find what we so desperately desire. (Proverbs 8:17)

Only then can we find ourselves with a heart filled with joy, while no longer feeling puzzled about our lives.