Published in Connections Magazine (Jan/Feb 2015)
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faith and family
Walking as Jesus Walked
by Marcus J. Carlson
In late October I had the tremendous privilege to travel to Israel. It has long been on my bucket list and something I had dreamed of doing personally, professionally and spiritually. The trip and my time in Israel more than lived up to my expectations as it was a deeply transformational experience. To experience the sites, walk where Jesus walked and be in the place where much of Christ’s life and ministry unfolded was inspiring. I certainly have no regrets, and look forward to leading a trip in October 2015 as well as future trips.
Three weeks after returning, I was out shopping with my 9-year-old son Micah and we were enjoying some quality time together as he talked to me about a variety of things. During a time of silence as we were walking down an aisle, Micah said, “Dad, I would really like to go to Israel with you.” I was surprised to hear this, as I had not discussed much about my trip at that point. Micah has always had some real spiritual depth, but as he has grown older—like many boys—he has shown mixed interest in church and spiritual things. As of late, I noticed him paying more attention during sermons and getting more excited about Sunday School. For the past month he has been asking to stay after church to participate in confirmation, because in his words, “I really want to learn.”
My first response in my head to my son’s request was one of curious joy, which quickly turned to the practical. “Micah,” I said, “I think that is wonderful and I hope that some day you get to do that. It was a wonderful trip for dad.” His response was simple and unemotional, “Dad, I would like to go with you next year when you go again.” I carefully and gently ex- plained to him (wanting to be realistic, but supportive) that I did not think that he would enjoy it at his age. “Micah, it is a lot of walking and a lot of visiting sites. I think you would get bored and would not enjoy it. There is not a lot for kids to do there.” His response struck me as profound. “Dad, I know that, but I still want to go. I just want to walk where Jesus walked.”
I just want to walk where Jesus walked.
I could not have said it better myself. For a moment, I got caught up in my own response to his statement. My 9-year- old son had articulated my incredible experience in a more simple and profound way than I had been able to do (part of that pastoral verbosity, I suppose). In an instant, I relived my entire trip and the various intellectual, emotional and spiritual responses I had expressed and experienced. Most profound was sitting in the cell below the house of Caiphas where Jesus awaited his trial, praying at the Western wall, sitting on the temple stairs where Jesus would have learned and taught, walking the road Jesus walked with the cross, kneeling at the birth site in Bethlehem, looking over the Shepherd fields, praying in the Garden, and standing in awe in the place of the cross and burial.
It was an instantaneous reminder not just of a powerful trip, but of my own spiritual journey and all that matters most to me. In Israel, I wanted to walk where Jesus walked, yet my trip and this moment with my son were powerful reminders of what matters most to me: to walk with Jesus and to walk as Jesus walked. In his simple, innocent, pure and authentic expression, Micah reminded me of my own faith and the deep power of childlike faith.
Somewhere along the way we lose sight of our childlike faith. It is going to happen to my children, and I had started to wonder up if it was already happening to my son. It is something I do not want to happen, something I will mourn.
It goes beyond the parental desire to have our children remain childlike. Every time I get a glimpse of childlike faith in others or even in my own rare moments, I am reminded of the profound nature of Jesus’ challenge to all the disciples to have the faith of a child. Though we lose our childlike nature somewhere along the way, I am convinced we do not have to fully lose our childlike faith and can reclaim it in our adult lives.
These thoughts were powerful and challenging, but were only the beginning of what has turned into deeper reflection on this moment with my son. Recently, we were doing a sermon series on the book of Ephesians. In one sermon, I spoke about imitation: the nature and power of imitation and how our children naturally imitate us at all ages, just as we continue to imitate our own parents. This comes in ways we both celebrate and mourn. Without connecting the dots, I used my son Micah as an example and shared how over time he has continued to imitate me when it comes to watching football. This started when he was one year old and would imitate the motion for touchdown and continues today as he yells at the television in the same way I do during good plays, in favor of liked teams and against those he does not like. While I find this enjoyable and endearing, more importantly, this experience—along with my Israel experience and our shopping trip conversation—reminds me of the powerful nature of imitation.
Paul called his readers to follow him as he followed Christ. While I enjoy my children imitating the good and mourn the bad imitations (which challenges me to rethink and change my own actions, words and responses), there is something much deeper at stake. I must do all I can to imitate Christ— not just as a disciple or a pastor, but as a parent. As we imitate Christ, we give our children the gift of faith and the opportunity to do more than imitate us: to imitate Christ. My sincere hope is not that my children will become more like me or some other ideal I have about what they should be- come, but that they would become like Christ.
A part of me hopes that when Micah told me he wants to “walk where Jesus walked” that he was saying something more than a desire to go on a trip to Israel. My sincere hope and prayer is that everyone I encounter, especially my children, would seek to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to not only desire to walk where Jesus walked, but to simply and profoundly walk with Jesus. My hope is that my children would walk as Jesus walked, to live a life of imitation—imitation of Christ in those around them, but most importantly imitation of Christ Himself. What better goal and hope can we have as parents, grandparents and those who care about children and adolescents—that they may walk with Jesus, walking as Jesus walked, living as Christ lived, and imitating the only one worth our unfiltered imitation!