Childlike vs. Childish
In the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus states:
“’Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will never enter it.’ And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”
What is it about children that Jesus wants us to emulate? Before we investigate this question too seriously, I want to recommend a little book entitled Children’s Letters to God, which is a compilation of brief letters written by children to God. Listen to some of these gems in order to put us in the right spirit for our topic:
Dear God: Thank you for the baby brother, but what I really wanted was a puppy.
Dear God: My grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?
Dear God: I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.
We must make a distinction between the terms childlike and childish. Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that childish behavior includes conduct that is self-centered and disobedient. Those with childlike qualities, on the other hand, reveal basic Christian characteristics. For example:
*Children recognize their dependence on others and look for help from others as a matter of course.
*Children are not impressed with rank or title. They tend to be less prejudiced than adults can be.
*Children are honest with their feelings. They hold nothing back in expressing themselves to others.
*Children are inquisitive. They are sponge-like, constantly learning and growing and excited about new experiences.
*Children find it easier to trust others more than adults do. Place a child on a table and tell them to jump in your arms and they will do it without hesitation, such is their trust.
*Children are naturally joyful and playful. My daughter races to the window with excitement whenever she sees a bird outside, as if she is seeing one for the first time.
*Children bear no grudges. They are uninhibited, eager to please, pure of heart, and have numerous other traits that we could list.
Although we can never be children again, Jesus is calling us to cultivate childlike qualities in our relationship with God. Think for a moment about how you relate with God. As you reflect on your connection with God, in what ways are you still trusting, honest with your feelings, inquisitive, joyful, and pure of heart?
There are two other letters in this book that give us great insight into how adults can rekindle the gift of being childlike in our relationship with God. The first letter states:
Dear God: I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying.
The second follows:
Dear God: I don’t ever feel alone since I found out about you.
Both these brief yet profound letters underscore that true faith is about a personal and daily relationship with God. These two children experience the presence of God as a natural part of their lives. Sometimes as adults, we intellectualize our faith. Children, on the other hand, have the ability to perceive without understanding, to feel without analyzing.
During the Divine Liturgy we are exhorted to “taste and see how good is the Lord.” We are being invited to first experience the Lord so that we may then come to understand Him also.
It is ironic that adults are expected to be role models for children. The reality is that adults have quite a lot to learn from children. May we imitate their enthusiasm so that each of us may breathe a true faith that is centered on a personal and daily relationship with God.