Archdeacon Michael: Solving a child's riddle

The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster
The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster
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My seven-year-old nephew was holding court at the end of the family meal in the way that only a child can do.

“I have a riddle for you all.” We had already had jokes that made cracker jokes seem sophisticated. “OK,” said his grandfather, I think to the worry of the parents, who wondered quite what was to come.

“Here it is,” he began, making sure that he had all of our attention. “Imagine you are in a boat in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sharks when your boat begins to sink. How do you escape?” Our recent predicament of the boat’s engine failing as we drifted on the Amazon surrounded by piranhas and anacondas meant my wife and I were drawing on experience.

Different complex solutions were offered and discarded as they still failed. After a number of failures, to the delight of the seven-year-old, the adults gave up.

The smile on his face was a delight as he proclaimed, “stop imagining”.

It was priceless, perfect and simple. We had failed to hear accurately the question. Our imaginations had been so real that we were prevented from seeing the solution.

Interestingly it was from the child who delights in his imagination, who happily creates complex games and scenarios who had stumped us all. Jesus reminded adults that it is children who are ‘greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ indeed that we need to become like them.

The trials and challenges of the world can sometimes get in the way of our being able to have childlike wonder and delight.

Our experiences and scars can make us be over complicated in our responses to simple and life enhancing situations.

The riddles continued, some better than others and we all learned more about how to be truly human and as God intended from the seven-year-old teacher who was holding court at the end of a meal.

Politicians in the past talked about ‘lifelong learning’. This needs not just to be about acquiring new skills or obtaining new knowledge.

It also needs to be learning how to be childlike in order to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.