Sarah, who lives next door, recently turned 6. For months she'd been looking forward to the humongous chocolate cake in the shape of a castle, with her name over the gates, promised by her mother.
Sarah and her father went to fetch it from the pastry shop on the morning of the party. The cake was beautiful! All soaring brown sweetness, with high walls, and white frosting for the ramparts.
Sarah's dad carefully placed the cake on the back seat of the car, and they drove off excitedly. As they passed a nearby lake, Sarah's dad suddenly slammed on the brakes to avoid some ducklings that were trying to cross the road. The chocolate cake came flying off the back seat and landed in a gooey mess on the floor of the car.
When they got home, Sarah's mom was speechless - well, almost. How could they have been so unwise (that's not the word she used!) as to put the cake on the back seat instead of on the floor? At least they could have wedged it between the pile of jackets there. She took Sarah into her arms to console her.
Meanwhile, Sarah was peeping at the cake on the kitchen table and looking over her mom's shoulder toward her crestfallen dad.
"I can still read the S," she said in a voice thick with emotion. "And the first A. And, Dad, I'm glad you were able to stop for the ducks."
Isn't it amazing how often we underestimate people? Especially children. We second-guess them unwisely. We leap to their rescue in what we perceive to be a desperate predicament, only to find they've already got it all worked out. They're at peace with themselves.
Children's perspectives can be wonderfully sound. Often, they've even gotten the solution while we're so busy feeling sorry for them and wallowing in the mud of despair (or the collapsed chocolate cake) that we miss the happy, growing part of the experience.
More significantly, how often do people, whatever their religious persuasion, underestimate God's power and constant readiness to help and heal them?
When this happens to me, I return time and again to the innocence of most children - their simple trust in the fathering and mothering qualities of God. Doubt is a word that just doesn't occur to them - especially if they've already had proofs in their young lives of God's protection and support.
As I thought about Sarah and her chocolate cake, I was reminded of the occasion when the disciples came to Jesus and tested him with a whole bunch of questions.
When he was asked, "Who is really greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus called for a little child and set him in the middle of the gathering. Then he said, "Believe me ... unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 18:3, 4, J.B. Phillips translation).
That would have been quite a challenge to a community preoccupied with putting food on the table and securing health, safe borders, and good neighborliness, particularly under oppressive circumstances. Similar challenges face everyone today.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy saw childlikeness as essential to people's spiritual development and advancement. She encouraged individuals to change their thinking from a material to a spiritual basis, which to many was a startlingly new step. And she suggested that this often comes most easily to children. She wrote: "Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pgs. 323-324).
Clearly, my neighbor Sarah had made rapid advances for one so young. She had her priorities right - placing care for others ahead of personal indulgence at a party. She showed extraordinary empathy for her hurting father and compassion for the ducklings.
I'm glad Sarah's mother told me about that experience. We both learned valuable lessons from it. Now, there's less second-guessing going on. We're trusting God more. And we have a new respect for our children. Perhaps the chocolate cake wasn't such a disaster after all!