“There exists in most men a poet who died young, while the man survived.”
It is one of the gifts of life to me that, no matter how old we are, we’re never far from the glory and imagery of childhood.
We, of course, spend perhaps a quarter of our life as children. Then, sometime soon after becoming adults (and sometimes before) many of us have children of our own and raise them into our middle years (and sometimes beyond). Our children then have children, and if we’re granted years beyond the average span, our greatness is measured by how many of their children surround us.
For people like me and my wife, we have the gift of nieces and nephews, the children of friends and extended family. So, unless we’re monks or highly reclusive, children and childhood are always around us.
Many of the reasons for this gift are obvious. Some are beyond our comprehension. Children infuse our decaying psyches with the pulse of renewal, of innocence and purity. Children give us hope. They shock us out of the mundane drone of anxious reality into living in the rapturous present–the unrestrained belly laugh; the melodious giggle; the faraway gaze; the bursting enthusiasm; the playful absorption. They remind us of guileless friendship and interdimensional joy. Their life’s purpose is seated in love and connection. Imagination isn’t a word they use. It’s the lens through which they see everything.
Scripture speaks often of the lessons of childhood. It speaks of what it means to be a child and what it means to grow up. But, I think, when we become adults, we often misinterpret these lessons. We exempt ourselves from the lessons of childhood because, as adults, we think we don’t need them any more. But, as spiritual children, no matter our age, we’re really never beyond needing them.
Certainly, most reading this have reached adulthood—we have jobs, we pay our taxes, we take out the trash. In the context of the physical world, we have reached maturity. We have left our father and mother and have a sense of sovereignty and autonomy over the physical universe.
But, what about the spiritual world? Are we likewise spiritual “grown-ups,” not needing a transcendent Father to protect us and help us make sense of things? Spiritually, no matter the assessment of our own maturity, shouldn’t we always remain the little child who can look with an unknowing awe and unrestrained dependence toward their daddy?
Perhaps we have grown spiritually in some areas, but unknowingly, are still children in others. Or, having grown some, perhaps we learned an important lesson as spiritual children, but in our seasoned maturity, we have forgotten what it was. God often calls us backward in order to move us forward.
As adults of this world, we live lives of responsibility and restraint. But, spiritually, we could stand to remember the uninhibited passion of childhood. And not just the passion to enjoy what’s good in life, but a passionate transparency to cry out to anyone who would listen when things are not so good.
Scripture does say that we shouldn’t remain children. That we should grow spiritually. But again, most of us never really have the chance to grow up because we won’t first regress into spiritual infancy. We think our goal in life should be to seek greatness. Control. Accomplishment. But, Christ said we should instead humble ourselves and seek him with all the dependence and frailty of a little child.
Growing up can be hard and there are some memories of youth we wouldn’t want to repeat. But we serve a God who makes all things new, and the Kingdom of Heaven is found, not in the security of adulthood, but in the precarious wonder of starting over with a remembered innocence.
So, whatever our age, any hope we might have for our future lies not just in being born again, but in growing up again. And, as we grow up again in him, we are called the “children of promise.”
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God. And we are!…And, it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is…everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” — 1 John 3:1-3