Have you seen the Still Face experiment? It is movingly powerful. It shows a mom and baby happily interacting, connecting and enjoying each other’s company. Then the mom is instructed to turn back to the child with zero expression on her face. Then for two minutes the infant starts to stress out and is visibly disturbed that the mom is not showing the affectionate attention that the baby expects. The point is to show the power of engaged, loving attention and the damage it can cause when it is not present. (See the video below)
I had this video in the back of my mind recently when I read Mark 10, which contains two stories that seem to have nothing in common but actually are connected to one another beautifully. The first story is of Jesus surrounded by children who seem to be getting on the disciples last nerve. Then, in the story that follows, Jesus is approached by a young, rich and powerful man who wants to know the secrets to the spiritual life.
I had never compared and contrasted the story of Jesus with the little children and the story that follows it. In the first story, the children are being rebuked by the disciples but Jesus makes the statement that no one will enter the Kingdom of God unless they receive it like little children. He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” You see, these children couldn’t stay away from Jesus. There was something about the way that Jesus interacted and accepted them that seemed to make all of the difference in the world, despite the disapproval of the adults on the scene.
If the point of the scene with the children is hard to grasp, it is perfectly illustrated by the story of the rich young man. He is an obedient, faithful person who still wants more and can’t even recognize when what he wants is right in front of him. In a moment of tenderness, Jesus even looks on him and scripture says, “loves him.” The children would have taken this look and that love and been perfectly content but the man ignores Jesus’ look of love and the words that come with it.
The man, the adult, has lost the ability to accept Jesus’ love and life as all that he needs. He has Jesus’ full attention and even an interaction of love and acceptance, exactly what the children knew was worth being present for, and that wasn’t enough.
For us, we dismiss the interactive, loving, and present Jesus for things that we conclude we really need. Instead of, with childlike eyes, take what is right in front of us. Our adult preferences, pride, and know-it-all nature cloud the simple, yet transformative, presence of Christ looking at us and loving us. Jesus’ look and love are enough, I don’t need to add-on to that.
Like a baby who craves a parent’s affectionate attention, what we need is Christ and his attention and he so longs to give it to us.