Jesus told us we could only enter God’s Kingdom by becoming like little children. A new study reported in Science suggests a trait of very young infants that could be very valuable to God’s Kingdom: openness to new experiences.
The Johns Hopkins researchers found that 11-month-old infants, confronted with objects that behaved in unpredictable ways, were more — not less — likely to spend time with that object, investigating its properties and behaviors.
What would this kind of curiosity look like in the Kingdom of God? How might it benefit those of us with mental health issues who are often shunned in Christian churches as not “normal”?
In the particular study, reported on April 3, 2015, infants were shown balls that seemed to disappear behind walls or float in the air. Given the choice of playing with the balls that behaved in unusual ways or other objects, the infants chose the unusual ones. They then “tested” the unusual balls to find out how they might be like or unlike other objects they had previously experienced: repeatedly banging a ball that had seemed to pass through a wall to confirm its solidity or dropping a ball that had “levitated.”
Imagine what might happen in our churches and their efforts to generate authentic community if, upon meeting a “different” person, we were as curious as an 11-month-old child:
- When one person speaks with an unusual accent, another would ask where they came from and what it’s like living there and do they miss family who are still in that place?
- When one person rides in a wheelchair, another would ask if they have clear passage and if not, what needs to be done, and whether there are places they want to go that the wheelchair doesn’t take them, and what they would like done about that?
- When one person describes life experiences of abuse, prejudice, or discrimination, another person would listen and assume the descriptions are true instead of assuming that a life story different from his or her own is somehow invalid.’
- When one person seems gloomy or angry or hyper or shy, another person would talk to them anyway, instead of looking for someone easier.
- When one person behaves in a surprising way — whether overreacting or underreacting or failing to participate or participating with too much aggression — another would choose to engage instead of immediately raising their “boundaries” and walking away.
Those of us who feel we have to hide our mental health diagnoses behind masks of “normalcy” to maintain acceptance in our churches would love to live in this Kingdom! Imagine what it would be like if …
- When you are having relationship problems with friends, family or on the job, people listened to you, believed you, and offered help, instead of assuming you are dramatizing your life.
- When you are job hunting, people actually discussed your skills and interests and referred you to openings.
- When you feel like you are hanging on by your fingernails, you could ask for prayer or practical help, instead of pasting on a smile and saying you’re “Great!”
When we allow ourselves to live our childhood curiosity in the face of all the many differences that our huge world creates, it is easier to be part of the lives of people whose experience is not the same as our own. Instead of churches full of people who are mostly alike, we’d have authentic communities of people who look, sound, and live in many different ways — and are always seeking to understand more about the different lives they each lead. We’d have churches that look more like heaven. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to experience on earth?