I've been thinking about Matthew 18:1-4 lately:
1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
What makes little children so special? What is it about them that we should be striving to emulate in our own lives? How does being like a little child make us the greatest in the kingdom?
I think some of the things that set them apart are their ability to be trusting, believing, forgiving, loving, and teachable.
Small children easily believe and accept what they are taught. They are full of questions and curiosity and want to learn. They love easily and without restrictions or hesitation. Little children can also be stubborn, willful and disobedient, but their underlying traits bring them to feel sorry for what they've done wrong quickly and more willingly.
If we contrast that with adults, it's easy to see why the Savior isn't saying we should all strive to be like adults. As adults we are often cynical, prideful, doubtful, mean, and unforgiving. Whether we learned these behaviors through example or as a defense against hurts that we've experienced, all of us can recognize ourselves in one or more of these traits.
Unfortunately, those traits and habits are the very things that distance us from the Savior and His kingdom. We have to re-learn the childlike qualities that the Savior himself modeled and taught. We have to be careful not to confuse childlike with childish, though. There's a big difference between the positive traits that children have and the immature behavior they employ.
It's not easy to change habits and defenses that we've taken years to perfect. In many ways the charge to become as little children again is the hardest. The good news is that the Savior can heal us so that we can let go of the negative adult behaviors we've developed and open ourselves to learning a new and better way.
When it comes down to it, who would you rather be like? Are there times in your life when you wish you could trust like a child again? Or wish that you weren't so jaded and could see the novelty in everyday life? Wasn't life a lot more fun back then?
The charge to become as little children is just as beneficial to us temporally as it would be spiritually. Not only would we be more loving, compassionate, and forgiving, (and thereby becoming more like the Savior) but we'd also be enjoying life so much more!
We may not be able to go back to the carefree days of our childhood, but we can work to recapture some of the innocence and magic that makes children so special that they are our role models for becoming the greatest in the kingdom of God.