Sunday morning my sister and I decided to take her son to the playground at the school behind their apartment—through the woods down a little asphalt path.
There are hills everywhere in the Mississippi valley. We descended through the trees, then ascended the steep hill toward the school. To the left across the parking lot was the playground, but it was fenced in so we had to circumnavigate the school to get there. We turned right.
Out in front of us another, much smaller playground came into view. My nephew was running along the sidewalk. Like planets my sister and I were orbiting the school, but he veered off in a straight line through the grass toward this playground. It had its own field of gravity.
My sister called out to him by name, "We're going this way, to the BIGGER playground."
With kids, you should say everything with exaggerated inflection. Making everything sound more exciting will convince them they want it. Even if they don’t know what you’re saying, the way you say it will communicate the meaning. Earlier, after he had made a mess with the Play Dough (okay, I helped), it was time to put it back. If you say "HURRAY!" loudly and with a sense of joy as you put each thing back in its place, kids are more likely to help clean up. In summary, celebrate everything.
This was how my sister had said it. "There's a BIGGER playground. Don't you want to go to the bigger playground?" (Also, repeat key words.)
To no avail. My nephew saw a slide (6 ft long, yellow), a bridge, and, well, that was all it took. He was climbing the steps by the time we reached the playground. We trailed behind, anxious to return to our mission.
We stood watching him, uninvolved we were. He seemed quite content though, inviting us to "Come inside" and play with him. Finally my sister snagged him, scooped him into her arms, and hauled him back toward the school, toward bigger and better things.
"I feel like there's a spiritual truth in here somewhere," she said with her son on her hip.
"I know," I laughed. "I was thinking the same thing."
As we continued around the building, back on our flight path, that spiritual truth seemed unambiguous to us: We satisfy ourselves with less when God would like to give us more. If only we would keep on course.
Now, though, as I sit here writing it, another truth springs on me. In our metaphor, my sister and I had likened ourselves to God, leading the child toward greater blessings—the more abundant life. It was the obvious lesson to both of us.
But what if we learned from the child instead of teaching him? In that light, there was a different lesson: We could be content with less, even if there is more we could strive for.
So which is it? Are we blind to the better blessings God would give? Or is contentment available with lesser things?
Sometimes God is repeating key words and communicating in a clear tone. There’s something BIGGER. Stop living for less. “Why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live.”
And sometimes God is saying that we need to stay put and find contentment there. “If we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
God refuses to be cornered by one conclusion over the other. He's not predictable like that.
Was my nephew foolish for being happy with less? Or was my nephew showing us what Jesus meant when he said that the Kingdom would be given to such as these: content, present, invested, not wanting? Jesus once told us to become like children.
As we orbited the school, we came to yet a third playground, this one even smaller than the first. Beyond it, obscured by a hill was the sprawling playground we were destined for.
My nephew was already headed for the steps on this new, smaller play set.
“Look!” I said, with excitement in my voice, pointing beyond the hill. “Do you see that playground?”
My nephew looked up. His eyes followed my gaze. He never looked back.