At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
This story begins with Jesus’ disciples asking him a pressing question. “How do we win the competition to gain favor with God? What do we need to do to prove ourselves as the best of the best with God?”
The disciples saw the spiritual life as an opportunity to compete with each other by trying hard, trying harder and trying their hardest to gain God’s approval. They saw God’s love as something for which they needed to strive. They saw themselves as unloved and therefore needing to prove themselves to God.
Jesus’ response was to show them how far off the mark their question was. Jesus did not do this to shame them, but to free them from their fears and distortions about God and about themselves. In response to their question Jesus called a little child and said to his disciples, “Look at this child. This is who you are. This is all you need to be or do. Simply be who you are. Let yourself be the dearly loved child of God that you are.”
Jesus was telling his disciples that the kingdom of God is not a competition. He was saying there is no such thing as being the greatest. Jesus was telling them to give up this way of thinking and being in the world. He was calling them to live in the freedom and humility of a child.
Prayer is being a humble child. Dependent, trusting, teachable, open to love, responsive to love. Children know they need help. Children know they need love. Children respond with joy and exuberant love when they are seen and heard and valued.
We are God’s dearly loved children. We can let go of striving to win God’s love and approval. We cannot win God’s love because it is already ours. Always. Unconditionally. We can let go of competition, pride and pretense because the people we believe ourselves to be in competition with are also dearly loved by God.
We are invited to the freedom of the humility of children—the freedom to be loved and to respond in love to God and others. This humility, this freedom, is the heart of prayer.
Free me to be a child.
Free me to know myself
loved by you.
Free me of pride
Release me from all the futile and unnecessary attempts
to prove myself worthy of your love.
Let me know the humble prayer
of being your much loved child.
Sit quietly, breathing deeply and easily. Ask God to help you experience yourself as a much loved child—held and safe in God’s loving presence. Notice whatever sense you have of childlike wonder, joy, playfulness, creativity, affection or energy. Notice, as well, any need for comfort or nurture that this little one might be experiencing. Let your child self find comfort and love in the arms of Jesus.