In my book and on this blog and through my daily life, I try to encourage us to all to become more childlike. Indeed, perhaps more than encourage – urge even – because it is, I believe, absolutely vital for us as individuals and as a society.
But how can we be childlike in days like these? Not simply, is it possible, but is it right? When there is so much pain and suffering, instability and turmoil, uncertainty and fear – surely to be childlike is both impossible and inappropriate?
But I would turn the question around: in days like these, how can we not be childlike? With the world as it is, we need childlikeness more than ever.
This is not to say we should be wilfully naive about what is going on in the world. Sending out his disciples, Jesus tells them to be “as shrewd [wise] as snakes and as innocent [harmless] as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, we are to see what is happening with the wisdom and understanding of adult, but then respond with the goodness and grace of a child.
To be child-like is not to be child-ish. Indeed, much of what is wrong with the world stems from our childish nature: insecure, self-centred and manipulative; easily irritated, angered and offended; petty, resentful and spiteful; and so on… and so on…
This is not what the world needs right now – or, indeed, at any time. Rather, it needs people who will respond with a childlike heart – humble and joyful, and grateful and graceful, and playful and full of wonder.
But how can we be childlike when so much would seem to conspire against it – in the world, in our lives, and in our own childish nature? There is, of course, no easy answer. But I truly believe that we can become more childlike, if we recognise our need and then consciously pursue it.
A couple of things to consider…
A relentless diet of (predominantly bad) news – along with endless speculation about what it might all mean – will almost inevitably suck any childlike spirit from us, and fill us instead with fear and gloom. Without sticking our heads in the sand, we need perhaps to recognise how we are each affected by the news media and moderate our consumption. Certainly we need to ensure that bad news is not the only thing filling our minds. St. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, gave this instruction and advice:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
And cultivate a playful spirit, by encouraging and welcoming playfulness into your life. Play connects us to the child within, and encapsulates much of what it means to be childlike. Think about it: you cannot be childish and playful – when the tantrums start, the play stops! The more playful we become, the more childlike we become.
And greater childlikeness is certainly what the world needs, in days like these.