Three things are certain with Aedan: When he arrives, there is a huge smile and an effusive embrace; he inevitably wants to know what you’re doing and just as inevitable, if it’s remotely interesting, he wants to help. On Gala Day, he arrived with Maayana to use the Rectory garden as a viewing spot for the Gala, and I was cutting the inside of the hedge. I had done the outside about 2 months before, but there had been no suitable gap in the weather (!) to complete the task. As soon as he saw me, he ran with outstretched arms, shouting ‘Granddad’. He stepped back and surveyed the tools I was using: ‘What are you doing, Granddad?’ As I explained, he seized the rake, three times his height, and attempted to rake the pile of leaves already raked up. Maayana rushed up, and soon a ‘disagreement’ broke out about who was ‘helping’ Granddad and using the tool.
We located smaller safer tools – although they both preferred the adult unmanageable tools – and they spent a happy half hour moving the cuttings up and down the garden. Productivity was slashed by half, although the fun had more than doubled. Both were enthusiastic in their tasks; I’m sure the extra work involved did not break even with their contribution, but any grandparents will immediately identify with the pleasure of their willingness to share in the work, however inadequately.
A week later, Euan and Zach stayed with us, along with 10 year old Greg. Aedan and Maayana joined their cousins, and then Ben joined us as well. Maayana and Ben played together, but the boys found a common agenda; after the sword fight got a little too vigorous, I suggested we sieve some of the finished compost, ready for use. Armed with spades – upgraded to the largest they could find the moment my back was turned, and downgraded to a safer size just as quickly – they organised themselves into digging up the pile of compost, putting it into the sieve, and sorting the discarded stones from the rich soil, ready for ‘banking’ in Grandma’s soil bank.
Four boys with spades on a large pile of soil! It started so well. Zach insisted on his own sieve, Aedan and Greg began ‘mountaineering’, digging randomly as they climbed, Euan began mining at the bottom. Getting the soil to the sieve took on a vague quality, with spadefuls of soil suddenly flying through the air in roughly the sieve’s direction. ‘Sorry, Granddad’ became a regular mantra, as one after another filled my shoes with soil, and Zach, by now bored with the sieve, was relocating the soil heap onto the path. On a previous occasion, when Aedan had worked alone with Granddad, the two of them had produced more soil than the four boys and Granddad together. This time, only the dogged determination of Granddad actually rendered any quantity of soil into the ‘bank’ – which the boys proudly showed to Grandma as the outcome of their hard work as they claimed cakes and drinks.
Was that what Jesus had in mind when he used a child as a model of faith? “I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18.17, The Bible). Small children have three natural qualities that are amongst those Jesus is commending in adults: they are trusting of known adults, they express their love openly and they want to work with or help adults. In return, adults tend to respond, where possible, by vaunting the relationship over the task; it is more important to relate to the children rather than to measure output. This is almost the antithesis of a business model, where output matters far more than relationship, and is only valued if it contributes to productivity. Small children also inhabit a happy world where they actually believe they have made a significant contribution.
At the beginning of the Bible, God makes man and gives him a task: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2.15, The Bible). This was neither slave labour nor necessarily the most productive modus operandi. God doesn’t need Adam to work: like grandparents and grandchildren, God did this to allow a loving relationship to build and grow. It is His ultimate objective, to have a people who understand Him, love Him, and want to be as much like Him as is possible. The other elements common to children are all too obvious (see above!), and all too common in adults; Jesus calls us to build a child-like relationship with our heavenly Father.
Praying that you may see in the tasks about you an opportunity to grow a relationship of love with those around you and with Jesus, the true image of what it is to be the Son of the Father.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,