Lessons From the Children (and Grandchildren)

I was able to spend several days with my grandson Zion this week. Zion turned 6 a week ago and he knows me by “Papa Gill”, the same name my children knew their paternal grandfather by. Zion is sheer joy. He is extremely bright, witty, creative and rambunctious. Like most children there is no pretense or inauthenticity and no ill will in him. One day he made a new best friend on the playground, if only for a few hours. The other little boy was African American but I know that if I would have asked him about his ethnic origin afterward he wouldn’t have had a clue. He wouldn’t notice that he was black, only that his name was Devon. That’s because children, until they’re taught differently are color blind and class blind. Jesus said, “Unless we become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of God. What Jesus was referring to was a kind of innocence, naiveté and purity that comes with, as Paul described it, “a renewal of our hearts and minds.” As well, this childlike state involves a reclamation of a deep authenticity and uniqueness that is given to every human being from birth. Sadly, the “world” has a way of draining our authenticity and squeezing us into culturally and socially expected norms and patterns. Listen to author Parker Palmer: “We arrive in this world with birthright gifts, then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces and religious communities we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism, sexism and “success” our original shape is deformed beyond recognition. We ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others. We lose sight of our original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then, if we are awake, aware and able to admit our loss-we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.” Carl Jung declared that the second half of life is the time when adults have the opportunity to develop their spiritual lives and to grow into their full humanity (which might just mean growing into our full “childlikeness!) Becoming who we were created to be is a challenging and exhilarating spiritual journey which lasts a lifetime. There is an old Hasidic tale in which the rabbi says, “When you meet God, you will not be asked; Why were you not more like Moses or Abraham, but rather God will ask; Why were you not more like yourself?” I have found that there are few true individuals left in the world, that is unless you spend time with little children. In them we see a glimpse of something very revealing and very beautiful. It is something we can learn from and something we can become….by the grace of God.