“Someday, you’ll be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Since my summer at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, I have returned to Atlanta several times for a visit. Every time, the Vicar and his wife have graciously offered me extensive hospitality, including the opening of their home. During one of my visits, they invited me to come along with them to the Cathedral of St. Philip for a ministry fair that had a slate of classes that one could attend. Very unsurprisingly, I went to one session on prayer and another on spiritual direction. I remember both of the classes well.
In the session on spiritual direction, the priest who led the class — herself a spiritual director — said that she always advised those in her care to keep a picture of themselves as a child close by at all times. She said, “You keep a picture of yourself as a child in your office because it helps you remember that this is how God sees you”.
Yes, I’m 98% sure I rolled my eyes when I first heard that. While we’re at it, let’s join a drum-circle, squeeze our hankies and talk about our “faith journeys”, why don’t we?
It is not that I didn’t like being a child. I had a mostly happy childhood as the youngest of three boys with loving parents (who still love each other). My brothers were four and six years older than me, so if I wanted to keep up with them, I had to act older than I actually was. Plus, most of my childhood pastimes were solitary, fairly grown-up activities (reading and piano). I resisted childhood, even as a child.
It is not that I didn’t like being a child, but, by the time I was in Middle School, I hated being talked down to and I hated anything that was childish, because children don’t do anything; they’re just waiting to become someone, to do something. Around the same time, I discovered angst, ennui, the music of Tchaikovsky and Mahler. This drive to reject what was childish has served me well for most of my twenty-five years. It drove me to be (fairly) successful in High School and driven in most of my studies in College. I almost always made responsible decisions and avoided many of the pitfalls of my peers. I think St. Paul’s admonition is good, “When I was a child, I spake as a child . . . but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
It is not that I didn’t like being a child, but just that I like being an adult much more. I can buy two boxes of Lucky Charms (when they’re on sale) because I’m an adult. I could eat McNuggets with honey-on-the-side-for-dippin’ everyday (or until my paycheck runs out) because I am an adult and no one can tell me not to! I can eat Ice Cream straight out of the carton, while in my bed! Ha! Take that, children!
But, being an adult has many drawbacks, like responsibility, disappointments, angst, ennui, “quiet desperation” and so on. That very same drive that propelled me into adulthood can be a curse, too, like the periodic existential crisis when that drive lay impotent on the ground. The voice that says “I should be doing more” is often just a cruel taskmaster that demands bricks out of mud, sweat and tears. You have to deal with people you don’t like and who, most days, don’t like you, either; you have to make a livable peace, at least, with the ingrate, the petty and the bigot. It can all be a very trying load to bear.
God sees all of this, of course. God sees our mostly vain attempts at bettering ourselves, yet constantly calls us to peace. Our Lord Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts continually, saying, “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15) And, yes, there have been several times in my life, where I would suddenly breathe and remember, “Andy, you’re just twenty-five. Just do the best you can do. Leave room for grace. You don’t have to have it figured out.” Sometimes, it is completely okay to eat ice cream straight out of the carton.
But, God also sees us at our deepest being. That self that is veiled by fog, yet is intimately known in all of our deeds, misdeeds and in our words, spoken or not. Perhaps, there at the core of ourselves where the Holy Spirit “makes his dwelling”, we go to meet with the ineffable from before time to see and to be seen, to love and to be loved. And perhaps there, at the best part of ourselves, we cease to be an adult with all our impressive adult worries and we return to being children.
Maybe that presenter in Atlanta was right. Perhaps, when God looks at me in my heart-of-hearts, all the good Lord sees is a little kid in a hideous Cosby sweater with spiky blond hair trying to do his best to love God and his neighbor. And, frankly, if that’s how God looks at me, then maybe I need to look at myself that way, too. Angst be damned.
And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.