When I was younger, I used to play “little house on the prairie” in the clubhouse in my backyard. We would pick mulberries from the bushes and scrape dry grass from the lawn and toss this “food” together in bowls we had swiped from the kitchen. We would carefully store our “food” in small tunnels we dug in the sandbox because these burrows kept our “harvest” fresh in the “winter.” (Whenever my mom’s utensils were missing, she knew to check outside in the sand box.). Our bikes were horses, stained blankets were beds, and a torn lawn chair was the dinner table.
When I was a bit older, my friends and I would act out the scenes from our favorite books and film them. I would spend hours scrupulously turning the latest Baby-Sitters Club story I had read into a script. I would painstakingly transmit dialogue from the text to a piece of notebook paper in my story-binder, and I would make copies for all of my friends and highlight their corresponding parts. When it came time to film, we would make our younger siblings play the roles of minor characters and we would scan the camera across a large blackboard to capture the “credits.”
The sheer effort we put into creating these imaginative worlds and performing these silly tasks was utterly irrational. Our efforts surely bewildered our parents, just as I am bewildered by my own kids’ devotion to seemingly purposeless undertakings. As adults, we stare into these fictional scenarios as outsiders, comfortable with our seats on the couch, nodding in amusement at our children, but utterly incapable of becoming participants in the dreamed-up reality they create before us.
What prevents us from participating? When was the last time I lost myself in the joy of cooking dinner the way I lost myself in the effort of collecting those mulberries and grass clippings? When was the last time I created a lesson with the single-mindedness of the twelve-year-old girl who created movie scripts for her friends? When was the last time I lost myself in any sort of effort at all?
I am fascinated by Jesus’ mysterious claim that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. Is it because kids can dream myths into reality? But how? When you’re a kid, there is purpose in everything—there is meaning to be found in tattered blankets and broken sticks, mulberries and grass clippings, in pens and pencils and notebook paper. This meaning is an eternal type of meaning because it is not dependent on any sort of future accomplishment— we knew those berries wouldn’t literally sustain us and those scripts would never be read by anyone but ourselves. But we were living eternally in those moments—living eternally precisely because we were living unconcerned with the future.
So how do we live like eternal beings? Why did those childhood moments matter? (This is not a rhetorical question– comments are welcome because I’m not sure how to end this post.)