“Let’s leave Timothy for a while; turn with me to Proverbs twenty, verse one,” the lively young pastor instructed us.

It was a Sunday morning and the preacher was halfway through his sermon regarding expectations for elders and deacons. I found it interesting so far but was interrupted by a nudge.

“That little kid looks like he’s twenty!” my fiancée whispered into my ear.

“What?” I returned. I must have misheard her.

“That toddler’s face looks so mature,” she whispered back, nodding towards the pew in front of us. I followed her gaze, eager to see what she could be talking about.

The little person was seated on the lap of a gray-haired lady who appeared to be his grandmother. He was thoughtfully munching a goldfish as he silently surveyed the beautiful, vaulted sanctuary. I could not see his face very well but took note of the rest of his appearance. He was dressed fashionably, sporting a poncho and khakis, as well as Puma shoes that were neatly tied for him. His round head was adorned with a mop of straight and full blond hair that shone brightly. On the bench next to him sat a backpack full of things to keep him occupied (I used to have the same thing); however, he was currently content to gaze at whatever caught his little eyes. When he finished his cheesy morsel and turned to look for more, I saw his face. I smiled as his light blue eyes caught my gaze.

He did indeed have a very mature-looking face, with a strong jaw and furrowed brow. His visage gave the impression that he was heavily contemplating the secrets of the universe or perhaps having serious reservations about the pastor’s theology. To my surprise, this quickly vanished and was replaced with a very toddler-like grin. He was delighted by the fact that two adults were looking at him and were seemingly happy. There was no hiding the joy on his face. As he dug out the last goldfish from his container, we broke eye contact and I refocused on the pulpit. I saw out of my peripheral that he seemed to be looking for something else to eat.

Before long I found myself watching him again. There were no masks he wore and no walls built up; he was not afraid to show me that he was pleased. I imagine he would not have hesitated to show me his displeasure either. His simple mind was still that: simple. Not many people are that genuine; I am not even that genuine most of the time.

He had opened the bulletin as if he were reading it. After a quick scan, he carefully folded it back up and gave it to his grandfather (or so I assumed him to be). Then his grandmother helped him fish out a bag of pretzels from his pack, and I watched as he tried to select just the right one. I muffled a laugh when I saw his hand poised and his pinky stuck out in an indecisive manner. He devoured his carefully chosen twisted brown snack and his grandmother handed him a CamelBak water bottle. After a huge swig, he scrupulously closed the top and reached into the depths of the bag to pull out a book. His eyes grew big.

“Thomas!” he whispers excitedly to me as he refers to the smiling train on the front cover. I am sure his grandma heard, but she did not bother to hush him. I give a mock gasp and he grins in response. In a crazy way I have control over him- my response dictates what happens next in this little exchange. He is shamelessly eager to please me and depending on what my response is, he could be spurred on or utterly put out.

He is encouraged and quickly abandons Thomas in search for something in another zippered compartment. What kind of two year old knows how to work a zipper? Okay, he had a little difficulty with it, but with some help from grandma he had it open and produced a toy car. He whispered some unknown name for it and held it up proudly. My mock enthusiasm grew and his heart seemed to swell inside his little chest. Item after item came out of the backpack, all of which I greeted with different expressions. Some were even repeated, but he did not care.

My smile may have been fabricated and my enthusiasm counterfeit, but that did not dampen his spirit a bit. There was no way I would crush his childish joy. How could I? He was defenseless. If I would have said “That’s dumb; it’s just a toy car,” his tiny psyche would have been destroyed. Eventually someone will let him down, but it is not going to be me. After that happens, he will learn to protect himself. We all do. He will sadly build up walls after life knocks him around a bit. It is better to pretend than to hit him with the truth that in the long run the toy car is of no consequence, right?

Both his hands were in the pack now. He looks up at me with an expression I cannot even explain. This is the grand finale; the big moment. After a brief struggle a stuffed penguin emerges. His eyes shine as he utters its name; a word known only to himself. My exaggerated zeal bubbles over and I gave him the most awe-filled and admiring look I could muster.

I wish I had more concrete memories of the bliss such as he experienced. In a sense he is not living in reality. Poor kid. If I were some jerk, I could very easily make him cry his eyes out with the things I could say. I have a direct impact on how he values himself. I laugh a knowing laugh to myself. My years of life experience have taught me how to protect myself. We will both forget this interaction ever happened.

Wait, that isn’t right. All the walls that I construct and masks that I try on bury the real me and end up shaping me into what everyone else wants me to be. All the weight that comes with trying to seek the approval of others is suffocating. No one should have to put up walls or weave complex security blankets, because with every brick or stitch the real person disappears and is lost in a shroud of made-up realities.

“And dis is… Kleenex. For my nose.” His little finger touched his nose, and I had a hard time controlling my laughter.

Doesn’t the Gospel of Jesus insist that I am totally accepted for who I am, without all the falseness? This little kid gets it more than I do. If there was ever a time for diffused light to pour over me in sudden revelation, now was one of those times. The perfect setting, wasn’t it? Although the message was delivered differently than I first expected, it could not have been any clearer. My mind flashes to a familiar passage in Matthew:

“…’Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

The pastor has made his closing statements and music gave us permission to stand up and leave. My little friend was meticulously repacking all his favorite things and Grandma turned to me and smiled.

“How old is he?” I asked.

“Two years and three months.” she replied in a way that only grandmas do.

“He is so smart!” My fiancée stated. “And not many two year olds are so good with their motor skills.”

The proud grandma nodded, “Yeah, he is sharp.” I couldn’t agree more.

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