The idea is not that these and other lessons can't be gotten apart from our children. Surely they can for they are found in Scripture. In fact, they cannot be understood as lessons about God apart from Scripture. But children have a way of becoming enacted sermons that bring to life the lessons we've heard for years but perhaps never fully appreciated. Children are in a sense living parables. They live out their sins openly and unapologetically, while we live ours subtly, disguised, and disingenuously. As a result, we sometimes don't see our sins until our daughter sings them to Jesus at the dinner table.
In a sense, children are to us all like the child in the often-told story of Augustine's conversion, whom he heard singing over and over again, "pick it up and read, pick it up and read." From this, Augustine felt impressed to open a nearby Bible. Immediately he turned to a passage that then and there led to his conversion. Though theological questions and much searching led up to this moment for Augustine, I find it striking that a child's voice, not a grandiloquent argument, seems to have played a pivotal role in the decisive moment for one of the Church's greatest minds. Perhaps there is simply something about the presence of children that leaves us all longing for our own innocence.
The point is that by observing the everyday goings on of our own children and those around us, all of us, if we pay attention, may discover through children the encouragement to return to the Book and read it afresh, that we might "grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15, NIV).
Children teach us about creative thinking and play.
Children do more than show us our faults. They also reignite our creativity and help us discover joy in the ordinary. Recently during a very busy and stressful time at work, I had come home and sat down in the back yard with my daughter when she asked if we could blow bubbles. I said sure, and it proved to be the highlight of my day. As I blew the bubbles, Charis chased them and popped them, laughing and cheering at each one as though it were the first, as though she had never done it before. There was something immensely therapeutic, even cathartic, about the whole thing and I found myself wondering at what point in life had I forgotten how to play.
In his book, What Our Children Teach Us: Lessons in Joy, Love and Awareness, Italian phsychotherapist and philosopher Piero Ferruci tells about his young son one day asking, "Daddy, what if our whole life is a dream?" Ferruci writes:
The idea that life is a dream is one I have met in various philosophies and artistic metaphors. But as it is spoken by my own child, it takes on added vitality. I can, for a moment, see his point of view, that of a child watching the world and wondering if it is not all a creation of his own mind. And my attention, so often preoccupied with small everyday problems, suddenly grows. I rediscover the enjoyment of thinking. (xiv)
As the children of a creative God, made in his image, we ought to be the most creative people around. Our minds ought to be constantly pressing the boundaries of what can be in search of what could be. Unfortunately, life has a way of crowding out our ability to see things differently and to dream dreams unhindered by the limitations of reality. Children though, can help us recapture this.
Children are an essential component of our Christian communities, not only for the sake of their own growth and flourishing but also for ours. This is not to say that those who have children have a leg up on spiritual growth. After all, Christ himself came as a child, a gift to the whole world. In being born to Mary, his coming evidenced God's concern for the barren and childless. That concern should be ours as well. Thus, when we function properly as the family of God (of course, with all the proper and necessary precautions), when we adults spend time with the children among us, when we listen to them, watch them, follow them, and let them teach us how to be curious all over again, they provide to the whole adult community an important, perhaps vital, part of our spiritual growth. When any of us, like Jesus, welcome children into our presence, we discover among other things, an opportunity to grow and learn from some of the best among us.
What have children taught you? I'd love to hear your stories!