“I love it the way we adults can be talking in a group and a child will just push its way up through to tug on the parent’s sleeve for attention. It has no sense that it is a burden on the parent and needs to go away. That is child-likeness. It’s only a sad and lonely child that feels it’s a burden on others.”
–A comment from a JPUSA member in a Sunday morning small group.
I took this comment rather harshly, because, in many ways, I was and am that sad and lonely child. (I don’t know, maybe the person sharing this is also one herself.) I sat in this little group and just listened, and didn’t quite know what to say. I am daddy to three young children. The group I was in was made up of a few married couples who did not have children themselves, but eagerly enjoyed their company on their floor. My skeptical side says its easy to enjoy the company of children when you are not directly responsible for them and can easily shut your door when you need a moment of peace. But for this morning I felt it was my duty to keep my mouth shut and just maybe learn something.
The something I heard in the above comment kind of jolted me, you see, I have this painful self awareness that often cripples me socially. Sometimes I really have to work up the nerve just to go and ask for something. Recently, perhaps feeling the death of my mother and my grandfather latently, I’ve fantasized about being “important” with my gifts. Convinced that I am not really appreciated where I am, I thought of going to that place where I will no longer have those kind of doubts of my significance, the place where it is just assumed I know, where my authority is never questioned, where time is easily always made for me, where I’m regularly asked for my wisdom and where when it is dispensed the solutions are heralded and given their proper adulation.
My little trip to the land of The Most Self Righteous King Christopher revealed itself for what it was. After a heart-to-heart frank discussion with Martha, wherein the true nature of my aspirations were revealed, I talked the whole thing down and prayed to “just leave this here.” It’s a little embarrassing to realize that self-pity and pride often masks itself as reticence, or wisdom, or sometimes even humility.
You should know that it took the whole day to come to the realization of my unsoundness in this matter. The Lord used my wife, then some words from my daughter out in the side yard, and finally a reading at my twelve step meeting at the hospital. Elle had been having one of her hard days. Since she got out of bed I’d been working with her, breaking up fights between she and her sister, asking her to look at the tone of her voice, the way she was offended so easily. I was sitting in the sideyard that adjoins our building on Wilson avenue reading some fiction (of all things) and writing in my journal. Elle came out and immediately got into a confrontation with Alathea and Esther. So I asked her to play with some other kids. She made an effort but really couldn’t find a way to involve herself. So she came back to me and said, “Daddy, you really don’t care if I have nothing to do!” There was something about those particular words that pricked up my ears.
I knew partly in that instance that my approach to all of life lately has been mostly self-absorbed. I heard my own voice, saying the very same things in that child-like woebegone voice to the world—maybe to God, about my life situation. “Don’t you care that what I’m doing feels like nothing to me!?” And I hear God answer me back, “Have I promised you constant adulation? Is that my job? Would you really think yourself better with regular positive peer review? Can you even remember the recent unsolicited praise you got?”
That can easily happen as a writer and editor. This process of putting words together in a meticulous fashion so as to assign meaning to a time, place, thought, feeling, takes all of my creative attention and most often yields nothing but my scant memory. I do it because I believe words have power, and I would pray that my words could be used by God to change things, starting with me. The trouble with writing in faith is that I’m engaging my words with the unseen. On the one hand I write in expectation, on the other I’m well aware that I can’t look to see the change immediately. Maybe writing is a glorified form of play, wherein all the blocks are words and what I do with them is not as important as the activity itself.
Do I know that God loves me? In turn am I able to see my significance? I can’t answer these questions very easily. There is nothing very easy about faith. Maybe when Jesus said “come as a child” he was giving the hardest of his commandments, simply because we begin dying as soon as we are born and childhood is only a beginning stage. I don’t care to think about child-likeness. One awful thing happened to me in childhood; I realized that, in my family, the idea was to simply grow up as soon as possible. Being a child is hard. Raising children is hard. Yet becoming a child is the key to the Kingdom. Mark 10:15:
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” NRSV