June 23, 2008
The Little Way
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Mt 18:3
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. 1 Cor 13: 11
Our family celebrated a breakthrough this weekend. My 1-year-old niece, Elise, began speaking sounds of the "English language" variety. I was the first to hear her new development while reading her the great literary classic Go, Train, Go.
At first, it came in a tiny whisper: "gooshwaygooo."
"What did you say, Sweetie … can you say it again?"
Huge, innocent brown eyes framed in messy blonde hair looked up at me as she carefully repeated, "Goooo, Shway, goooo."
I interrupted her parents' conversation to proudly announce their daughter's newest advancement. Of course, she stared blankly at her father as if nothing new had happened and no amount of coaxing could get her to repeat it.
I guess you can't win ‘em all.
Spending time with little Elise this weekend had me pondering the uniqueness found among children, even in their earliest years. Elise is what you might call an "easy child." Unlike her precocious 3-year-old brother, who delivered his first fire-and-brimstone sermon recently, she has a gentle, quiet, angelic nature that makes parenting delightful for her mom and dad (if a bit frustrating for an aunt who wants to show her off).
Of all her sweet little traits, I'd have to say Elise's most remarkable quality is her peaceful acceptance of life's limitations. If her tiny hand reaches for a sharp object, all one has to do is calmly say, "No, no" and she quietly withdraws her hand.
Watching Elise go about her world makes me ponder my own responses to life's ups and downs. Putting complete trust in her parents, she wastes little time throughout her days crying over what she can't have or what she doesn't understand. I suspect that when Jesus tells us to approach our faith like a little child and trust in our Heavenly Father's provision, He has children like her in mind.
Of course, I am rarely a content "Elise" and more often approach my faith like an angst-ridden teenager. I treat my relationship with God as if it is a complicated thing. I struggle. I cry. I resist God's wise voice. I am a restless, rebellious young woman who constantly wants what she can't have and foolishly thinks she knows more than her Father.
So why should God have us grow up at all if He desires us to be like children? In her autobiography Story of a Soul, St. Therese of Lisieux makes a clear distinction between child-like faith and child-like immaturity - both of which are present in all of us. Childish immaturity is marked by lack of knowledge and an over abundance of self-centeredness.
If you're a parent, you no doubt have witnessed this "other side" of childhood - filled with all sorts of poor behaviors that usually surface at the most inopportune times, like the check-out line at the grocery store. St. Therese was no stranger to it either. As a sensitive young girl, she often had tearful emotional outbursts when life didn't go her way, causing her siblings and father to walk on eggshells in hopes of preventing a scene.
But, at age 14, Therese realized she could not progress in her faith if she continued acting childishly. Her anxious outbursts indicated a lack of love for others and a lack of faith in God to work all things for good. She spent the last 10 years of her life committed to becoming "little" by prioritizing others' needs above her own, performing small deeds of kindness, and trusting that her Father's love and approval was enough to bring her happiness. Therese's "little way" opened doors for God to work through her in big ways, inspiring many to grow in faith through her example.
Intersecting Faith & Life: All too often, we carry our childish ways into adulthood while letting go of our childlike innocence and trust in God. What is one aspect of your life that could benefit from childlike trust? What is one aspect that could benefit from spiritual maturity? My prayer this week is that I will grow to become God's "easy child" - one who is quick to make Him smile and a joy to spend time with.