By Michael Mendis
For those who’ve heard me talk about my childhood experiences playing video games (and if you haven’t, you should click here to check out my Gamer Stories interview!), you’ll know that I grew up as a big fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. I loved playing those old games on the Genesis and the Dreamcast; I spent countless hours playing and replaying the levels, learning the fastest routes and uncovering the secrets hidden throughout each stage. So when SEGA recently announced Sonic Mania, a new 2D Sonic game that accurately captured the look and feel of the Genesis games, I found myself not only excited, but hit with a wave of nostalgia, a kind I hadn’t felt in a long time. No joke, I actually got a bit teary-eyed.
Nostalgia is certainly nothing new in the gaming industry; game developers and publishers often seek to leverage the love that their fans have for classic franchises in order to make money. In fact, a couple of the most talked about games of the last few years have ridden to success in large part due to nostalgia. Super Mario Maker on the Wii U gives Mario fans the chance to create their own levels using the same aesthetic as you would see when playing a Mario game on the NES or SNES. And then there’s the newly released Pokémon Go; the wildly popular new mobile game attracts not only younger audiences, but also older ones who played Pokémon and watched the cartoon in the 1990s, as Pokémon Go features the 151 Pokémon that could be caught in the original game.
But what is it about nostalgia that affects many of us so deeply? Why do we get such strong emotions when we encounter things that remind us of childhood memories? And what does that say about how God made us as human beings?
For many (though not all) of us, our lives as children are relatively simple; we have parents or other adults who take care of us and provide for our basic needs, which allows us to enjoy the good things of this world, the blessings that God puts into our lives, with fewer inhibitions and fewer complications. We have more time and energy to pour ourselves into things like games, music, or other fun activities than we do when we get older and start to have more responsibilities.
In thinking about these things, I’m reminded of the passage in the Bible from Mark 10 where Jesus speaks about children:
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16
In Jesus’ day, children were not regarded very highly by society; it wasn’t until they were old enough to work and contribute in a more tangible way that they were given much respect (in some ways this sentiment has carried over into more modern times, in which the old saying “children should be seen and not heard” became common). So when people started bringing children to Jesus, the disciples saw it as a task that was beneath their leader. Surely he shouldn’t waste time on these mere children when there were adults who needed to be taken care of!
But Jesus viewed children in a different way. He rebuked his disciples and encouraged everyone to continue bringing their children to him. Why? Because children were just as valuable to him as adults, just as deserving of love and attention. And Jesus went even further, telling the adults in the crowd that they needed to be like these children! Just as children run to their parents out of love and trust, eager to enjoy their parents and the good things that their parents provide them, so too are we adults to run to Jesus who loves us, who we can trust to take care of us, and who wants us to enjoy the blessings he puts into our lives.
Does this mean that the tasks that God puts before us as adults are unimportant? Not at all; God’s intention for us is to mature out of childhood and into adulthood. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” God designed us to be able to handle more complicated tasks as we grow older; for example, those who have their own children have the responsibility to provide for and take care of their kids, which naturally means that they won’t always be able to interact with the world with the same kind of innocence and simplicity that they could when they were young.
But clearly Jesus wants us to maintain some aspects of our childhood even as we grow up. He wants us to continue to approach the world around us with boldness, confidence, and joy, because we as Christians know that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and cares for us, and we are (and always will be) his children. All the challenges and complications of our lives are ultimately in God’s hands, and we can trust that he will see us through anything and everything we face. Nor do we have to contribute anything to God to make him like us or earn his respect; rather, he accepts us just as we are, and his worthiness becomes our own. All of that, in turn, frees us to enjoy his blessings with the kind of excitement that we normally only associate with a child.
So the next time you find yourself overtaken by the happy feelings of nostalgia, or the next time you see a child playing with unbounded enthusiasm, remember that God the Father loves you, and that no matter how complicated life gets, you can always trust in him and enjoy his blessings with that same enthusiasm.