Column – Remembering what childhood was like

Published 7:00 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

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This past Sunday I attended some family business at our church, so to speak. The sermon I gave was actually a State of the Church Address. It was the kickoff to a winter sermon series I will be preaching on great churches. I talked mostly about what established, mainline churches in America are up against. It was honest, with what I hope were appropriate doses of hope and good news sprinkled in.

As I finished, I confessed that if I came from a nursing background I should have started a message like that with the words, “Now, this is going to sting a little bit.” Because that might not make the most obvious column content here, I decided to consider instead what we did at church only a few hours later.

We played. That’s right, we threw a party that we had advertised as “Game Night.” Nevermind that as I write, my right elbow and tricep ache from a few games of Cornhole. But for some Aleve and braces on both knees and one ankle, I’m not sure I would be walking today after playing more than an hour of Four-Square.

Oh, the laughter we shared. There were board games and there were floor games. There was one table just set up for coloring books.

Our youngest participant was about four. Our eldest was in the ballpark of 80. We had the best time. A few dozen church members and friends, playing and enjoying a beautiful scratch made breakfast supper was a wonderful way to fellowship.

Jesus said in Matthew 18: 3-5 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” He would double-down on children as a metaphor for holiness in the very next chapter as the disciples were preventing the little ones from coming to him.

OK, so humility is different from playfulness. But is it really?

Life will play a bad trick on you if you let it. Some of us have such a hard time remembering what childhood was like that somewhere back, we stopped playing. Somewhere in the rearview, we can’t always find when it happened. But we can notice that we got old and became stuck in serious mode.

I am married to a gifted and accomplished woman. Viewed only professionally, she has accumulated a strong and decorated career. She has also borne the heaviness that life can heap upon any of us.

We have faced, together as partners, almost the full range of challenges that a couple can. When she needs to, she can rise to any challenge and do what must be done. She is grounded in the years she has lived. She’s also one of the funniest and most youthful people I know.

I admire the emotional balance she brings to life. I aspire to and am influenced so positively by her ability and willingness to play and enjoy life.

A play night at church. A youthful, sometimes exuberant partner in life. Why do these things matter so much? Jesus may have captured it in those two admonitions when he insisted that child-likeness is actually a healthy streak for us each to carry through life. Fact is, he said this was necessary.

Humility, wonder and flexibility are born into children until we socialize those traits back out of them. Their openness and inclusion is given to them by God until adults take them back by teaching children to live otherwise.

Instead, how high a price do so many of us pay for losing our childlike mindsets? To be clear, “childish” living is not what I am advocating. We need to keep the differences between those straight. No one needs to tolerate the behavior of a childish adult.

I wonder what might happen if you or I paused occasionally to remember what childhood was like. What if we recalled simpler times when we smiled and laughed more easily than we may now? Here is a big one: I wonder how so many of us would be different if now and then we gave ourselves more frequent permission to play?

Sure, children don’t know all that’s waiting on them ahead in life. But we just might notice that there’s still plenty to smile and laugh about even now, if we could rediscover just a little bit of our inner child.


Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.