Be Like A Child Once Again

“We really do at the core of us have a young child within and when we meet each other at that level, with the united heart of one child reaching out to the other’s child, we simply live out peace much better in our daily lives.” Heidi Lepper Barrett shares in her column for The Well.

Well let’s just start with the harder stuff and then round it out with the good news!  The older we get, the likelier we’ve felt betrayed and hurt and disappointed and the more barriers we put up to maturing fully as our adult self. We must never presume that we see ourselves, others, especially those closest to us, or the world correctly. Our adult lens is very often skewed and distorted and seeks largely to confirm what we already think and feel. As adults, it is indeed quite difficult to sit in the discomfort of accepting “I may not be seeing things or reacting to things or understanding things in an accurate way.” And so most of us simply do not go there or we get stuck sitting in the inner mire and ick. Something within us starts to darken. God knows this human tendency of ours. He sent His son to help us! He loves us that much! Jesus came and went but upon his leaving He promised us the Holy Spirit’s transformative love and power. And let’s be really honest, we all need powerful transformation so that the core of light and love within us can spread back into our adult self. We can as adults, despite the hurts, the this’s and the that’s, be walking beacons of light and love. But we cannot do that as we are currently. Jesus knew this. We must change.

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:1-5). Let us seek to return to a childlikeness that will allow us to love and forgive as we once did as young children: no agenda, no comparison, no superiority nor inferiority…but for the sheer pleasure and rightness of it. What would this actually cost you? What would it look, sound, listen like?

Faith in adulthood is to be more about unlearning who we think we are than learning who we think we ought to be. We build up years of hurt and ache, loss and failure, and that darkens us and often turns us away from each other. And we tend to double down in this and point a lot of fingers. And while there will always be movement of light and dark in our lives (remember the talk in Iconography I gave for Advent a few years ago? Thank you Lisa for that opportunity!), we can use the words of Jesus to move more quickly back to how we once were. And so how were we once as young children? Let’s use a bit of human nature and a bit of artistry to try to understand

As for the bit of our human nature: While the memories of our young years are not the most reliable and we tend to forget most easily the daily, the average, the mundane, we do know quite a bit how we humans mature through their youth. Children before the age of 7 are termed ‘preoperational thinkers’ for they tend to remain in the here and now, not calling up the past nor jumping into the future…they are not yet impacted by the judgments of others nor really appreciating there are standards and benchmarks the world says need to be met to be of worth…they do not get stuck in comparing themselves to others, they tend to be extremely self-accepting as they are…they might get upset or their feelings hurt but just as quickly can come to forgiveness…most things they experience are new to them and while some of those new things might be scary they also have a sense of awe and wonder about them…and most importantly they are very naturally compassionate (they want to stop to help that homeless person without a second’s thought, for instance, and do not have years of judgment telling them how come they ought not to stop). And this willingness to exude and lean into light and love starts at birth.  As early as 6 months old babies naturally lean in to those whom show a loving, positive energy and lean away from those whom do not. They intuitively understand this. We tend to lose it with age. And thus Jesus made a very bold statement: Be like little children! 

Once we transition from ‘preoperational thinking’ to ‘concrete operational thinking,’ again roughly around the age of 7, we start to develop a highly critical mind.  The judging/critical mind prevents crossing the gap into compassion for self and other, to love and understanding but rather toward sensing others are making judgments about us and that begins to have a deeply negative impact. This developmental process begins to prompt a strong tendency to seek to confirm our present thinking: If I think I am right, I seek to confirm my rightness, I do not seek to disconfirm my rightness. Contemplate how many of the tensions within your relationships are due to this process. Do you easily admit when you are wrong? Or does it hurt quite a bit to do so? 

So with the coming years, most of us move into unloving dogmatism, skepticism of others, or pure numbness. And so we actually need to learn to go back to how we discerned, inquired and contemplated as children. Remember, playing in the mud or the snow or the sand? Walking around with a sense of awe and wonder? Experiencing sensations, thoughts and emotions without judgment of them. Being in the present and curious about the how or what? Having wounds healed well with simple recognition and a hug? You simply just were, you did not do. After the age of 7 or so you started to ‘do’ thinking it would garner you something you could wield as worthy. Forgetting that you simply were worthy just as you were. 

Now as for the bit of artistry: Have you ever noticed that as you age there is a part within you that never does? And that the older you get the more this might baffle you every time you look in the mirror? We can have a hard time contemplating that we have ‘a young child’ within us that getcovered up with our adult thinking, adult ways of being, and conditions of worth the world layers on. We really do at the core of us have a young child within and when we meet each other at that level, with the united heart of one child reaching out to the other’s child, we simply live out peace much better in our daily lives. But for most of us the world has told us we need to perform to have peace, excel to be worthy, be right in all things to be secure. But whom are we to be listening to? The world or to Jesus? Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov’s “Love” sculpture was revealed in 2015 (at Burning Man of all places) and seeks to help onlookers reconnect with that inner child. This sculpture shows visually the question of what many of us adults are like in relation to each other but also how children are to each other. So this also begs the question, what would happen in the adult figure should the light of the child spread into it? What position would that adult now take? Would that be dependent at all on what the other does? Does this represent Love?

Be very clear: The light of that little child already resides within you…we are not going after anything…we are simply uncovering what is already there. I pray this Advent season you can tap into that lit up inner child light within and ask Jesus to help it burst forth into the darkness once again. Come Holy Spirit come, transform us in dazzling and brilliant ways. 

Copyright 2019 Heidi Lepper Barrett

Heidi Lepper Barrett

Heidi Lepper Barrett is a native born Californian (Santa Barbara to be exact!) who made her way to Iowa after earning a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California in 1996. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa, Heidi began teaching at Drake University in 2000. That was also the year, at age 30, she was baptized Catholic alongside her first newly born son. Heidi is married to Joe and they have two sons.