Childlike or Childish?

Last week was the week of our local County Fair. We missed having a Fair last year, so people were pretty excited to go. The exhibits, the rides, the animals, the events and attractions, the food, the games…there was a little something for everyone. I love watching the faces of the children– their wonder and excitement is contagious as they see the various farm animals, or ride the Merry-Go-Round, or discover the joys of Cotton Candy and Elephant Ears.

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I grew up with the County Fair– not just as a visitor, but as a participant. And I am encouraged to see a new generation showing animals, exhibiting craft projects, learning new skills, and having fun. Some of them will return as 4-H parents; some to work as judges or to volunteer at a booth for local churches, clubs or businesses ; some to visit from out of town with their own children and grandchildren. There is something about a County Fair that is simple and pure–something that can inspire childlike wonder, even in adults.

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Childlikeness is something we are called to by Christ. He loved children, and He told His disciples that if they wanted to be part of God’s Kingdom, they would have to become like little children (See Matthew 18:2-4). We are to pray to Our Father, having childlike faith in His good will and His promise to hear us. Childlike faith is not “blind” faith. Children are often frightened by the big animals or loud noises at the Fair. And they tend, (especially small children) to want to hold hands or stay close to those they know. But they also want to see and experience “everything”– because they trust that their parents and the Fair organizers will not put them in jeopardy. A childlike attitude and trust in God brings us the kind of joy and peace we see in children as they discover, rejoice, explore, and enjoy life– especially during Fair week.

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This is not to be confused with childishness. While Jesus encouraged His disciples to have childlike faith, He reminded them that the “children of Israel” had often behaved with childish disobedience and complaining. God is a loving Father. He wants children who follow Him out of love, and who trust Him completely. But He will also lovingly discipline those who have developed a childish rebellious streak. I didn’t see much childishness at this year’s fair, but when I did, it was not exhibited by children, but by those who consider themselves adults. Tantrums, selfish demands, complaining about the weather or the crowds or the noise… While the children at the fair were gracious “winners” and “losers” at the shows, patient and content (for the most part) as they waited for rides or food, some of the adults were grouchy, whine-y, and difficult to please. I’m sure I missed a couple of epic meltdowns by toddlers, and some tears from a few exhibitors, but most of the children were just thrilled to be able to go to the Fair again.

It is easy to recognize and call out childish behavior in others. Obnoxious, foolish, self-centered, unreasonable– those are just some of the adjectives such behavior warrants. A childlike attitude is also easy to recognize– eager, grateful, joyful, hopeful, teachable, honest and open, loving and caring. Oddly, I know several adults who sneer at childlike behavior, even as they exhibit childish behaviors. They brag about their very “adult” approach– cynical, “realistic,” confident, “tough,” clever, independent, and self-sufficient. But they are stressed, angry, bored, distrustful, lonely, and sad. Our loving Father wants so much better for us! Being with childish people is tiring and depressing; being around childlike people is refreshing, joyful, and encouraging!

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I’ve been thinking this week about my own attitude. The County Fair is finished for this year, but each day comes with wonders and struggles, competitions, waiting in lines, and dealing with crowds. Do I face them with an attitude that is childlike or childish? Do I trust God to be with me when I go through new experiences, even if they are a bit daunting? Or do I complain and demand my own way, expecting to “win” every game or competition, dragging myself and others through stress and tears? Father, help me to see Your world through childlike eyes of wonder and gratitude. Help me to see others with the love and joy You alone can inspire.

Going For the Prize

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. I Corinthians 4:24 (ESV)

I mentioned the other day that the county fair is on in our area.  Each day of the fair, young people from around the county (and some from neighboring counties) have been showing livestock.  The animals are judged on their general health and appearance, weight, height, and other factors that mark them as the best of their breed or class.  The young people are judged on their presentation, their knowledge of their animal (anatomy, breed, hygiene, health, etc.), and their ability to “show” the animal– to keep in still, to pose it, and, in some cases, to walk or trot it in a pattern.  Different shows and different judges will determine which animals are worthy of prizes and which of the youth deserve a prize for “showmanship.”  Both are coveted awards.

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The young competitors spend countless hours and work incredibly hard to get their animals (and themselves) ready for the judging.  Animals and their handlers are scrubbed, groomed, brushed, gussied, and polished.  They preen and pose for the judges, and the students answer questions, listening for instruction and correction, and show both self-confidence and respect for those in charge of the show.  They also show respect for each other, and often lend a hand (or a brush) to help someone else.

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What would happen if everyone showed up in ripped shorts or pajamas?  What if the animals were running loose, filthy and un-groomed?

agriculture animals avian beaks
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The Apostle Paul spoke of the Christian life as a race–one that we should run so as to receive the prize.  When we serve, when we worship, when we pray, when we study– we should be giving it all our passion, all our energy, all our focus.

Most of these competitors will not win the trophy or the purple ribbon– but most of them will still go home winners– because they gave it their all.  They did the work, and built the discipline, and came prepared to win or lose with grace.  The trophies and ribbons are wonderful and colorful, but the true prize is the discipline, the knowledge, and the character that are built long before the judgment day.

man wearing white sweater and black shorts about to run
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May that be true for all of us as we travel through this life– may we grow in discipline and character to be more like Christ.  He is the prize for which we work and train and run and pray.  May we “show ourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15).

And may we pray for a spirit that does not grow weary or apathetic; a spirit willing to listen for correction and instruction; may we show up ready to give our best, even if the prize (and the praise) goes to someone else today.

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