A trip to the Zoo

The Little Children and Jesus
‘ People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.    When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.    Truly I tell you, 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, placed his hands on them and blessed them.’ Mark 10:13-16

This excerpt shows us that God requires us to be ‘child-like’ to enter the kingdom of God. To this an obvious question one might ask is:

What is it about the nature of little children that sets them apart from adults to receive the kingdom of heaven?

Here are few distinct characteristics that pop-up:

  • They are innocent and pure – they see the world without labels or prejudices.
  • They forgive without conditions, bitterness, or resentment
  • They trust and exhibit complete dependence on their caregivers

God wants us to live gospel-centered lives, he trains us to understand his word and to obey him (Titus2:12), I am sure he also uses children as instruments to accomplish his purpose for us. This write-up is about my family’s trip to the zoo and what my son taught me about being child-like – an essential virtue as alluded in the passage above.

God has blessed me with 2 children- Caleb, my 2-year-old son and Chloe, my 7-month old daughter.

Caleb loves story time. He, like all other kids his age, has the knack of listening to the same story a million times and still not be bored of it. His favorites are the ones with animals, so it is no surprise that his favorite Bible stories are the story of creation and Noah’s ark. With that background, it should not be hard to guess who was the most excited to go to the zoo. Chloe, my daughter has made a micro habitat of mummy and daddy’s chest and arms. Out of all the places in our house, (including her safe crib) there is no other place for her like being on us.

Being Child-like 101:
In the August of 2020, when California slowly started lifting some of the COVID imposed restrictions, one of the activities Betsy, my wife and I decided was safe to do as a family was to visit the Oakland Zoo which was re-opening with limited capacity and with plenty of precautions put in place.

This was Caleb’s second visit to the zoo, the first visit was when he was an infant, but this visit was a different ball game altogether- he was more independent, more inquisitive and had developed new skills like being able to verbally express himself.

The evening before the outing we were busy feeding Chloe her mashed solids (a time consuming and a messy affair) and getting dinner ready. Usually we allow Caleb to watch nursery rhymes on TV for an hour while we get these things done. As we got our chores done, it was time to turn the TV off but Caleb was not done watching yet. After letting him know that the time was up and that he was watching his last rhyme, we switched the TV off. Caleb like following a script, concluded the whole episode by throwing tantrums and burst out sobbing. After he settled down, we ate and put him to bed. Disciplining and doing the right but unpopular thing for Caleb always makes Betsy fearful of making him dislike her. However, when Caleb woke the next morning it was just like any other day, he woke up without any resentment and as bright as the morning sun. It is heart-warming to see how easily toddlers get over things, they don’t hold grudges or harbor hatred. That morning he was just happy to see us and was excited to be able get into the car and ‘dive (read drive) to the zoo’. We’ve watched this happen so many times and it just makes me realize how children are quick to forgive, while as an adult I have often let bitterness and resentment seep into my heart. The Bible says that we should not just forgive but also do good, love and even pray for those who would have wronged us- Luke 6:27-31. Can grown-ups with all our knowledge and intelligence be as forgiving, warm hearted, loving as little children? After knocking all the things off our to-do- list, we were finally ready to set out on our mini adventure. As we entered the Zoo, Caleb was captivated by the Flamingos and the water scaping around that area. The very first animal that we saw was the tiger. I could see the awe in my boy’s eyes and we started talking about tigers. He observed the tigers and everything around for a while and after a brief pause, the first words that came out of his mouth were “Open..Open..Open”. I looked at my wife bewildered, my non-verbal cues signaling “Open?? What does he mean? What should we open?”. My wife checked with him with our daughter in a stroller beside her, “Caleb, what is it? what should we open?”. We were amazed when he pointed his fingers at the barrier wire cage, desiring it to be opened. If our hearts had jaws, it surely would have dropped at that time. We had told him stories about animals- big and small, we told him how he would be able to see the animals at the zoo but none of the animals in his storybooks or on TV were in a cage and it never occurred to us to tell him otherwise! It was time to make amends for not setting the expectation right so we took this opportunity to tell him about how some animals are ‘wild’ and visiting them in the zoo could only be done from a safe distance and that we could not invade their space. Only professional zookeepers who were their caretakers could go near them.

I am in awe of how a toddler desired to see animals free and not in cages (even though his understanding is based on the books that he reads or the cartoons he watches). I realized at that very moment, I too was being schooled on child-like purity and innocence. My point here not being advocation of animal rights and their freedom but how innocent children are. Their demeanor is a window to their hearts, they don’t mince words or hide behind any masquerades.

Caleb did not see a predator; he saw a tiger who he couldn’t get close to. We, on our path to sanctification are also learning everyday, to be pure and be more like Jesus-our role model.

As we moved along our little expedition, Caleb was an absolute sport as he walked the entire lower section of the zoo, he was starting to get tired now and Chloe was starting to get fussy and before her ‘hanger’ could become a community emergency we found a spot in a wide-open area, adequately distanced from the other visitors to take a break. The moment we sat, Caleb knew it was time to eat. We dug into our sandwiches and juice boxes, (milk for Chloe of course) before heading out on the next leg of our visit. Children trust us for all their needs, they show complete dependence and trust that parents will take care of them. Our relationship with the Almighty father is no different, he has called us to trust him, pray to him, depend on him for all our needs and to let go of our worries and set our eyes on Him for He who made us, cares for us and will provide for us.( 1Peter 5:7, Mathew 6:26, Luke 11:11) This should encourage us all during this unprecedented COVID time.

Birth of a child is also the birth of a soul in this world- a soul which is free from all the corruptions of this world. It is as we grow old that it builds layers of vices, sometimes vices are so deep or hidden that we often might be blinded to them.

How then am I to embrace a child-like nature? And moreover, since I am calling it ‘nature’, can my already corrupt-self ‘nurture’ itself to be more child-like?

These thoughts humble me and at the same time fill my heart with gratitude for God’s divine grace working in me daily and sometimes through experiences like the one’s in this article. We are all God’s work-in-progress as we firmly pursue him in our life, a work which will be brought to completion by the day of Jesus Christ- Phil 1:6

‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’
Titus 1:11-14

About Austin Joy

Member of San Francisco Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam & Young Family Fellowship