October 26, 2015
I have been increasingly expected to assert myself and demonstrate my prowess, my unflinching nature, my inability to be phased, in response to an increase in responsibility I take on with age. Professional, personal; this seems pretty much the case in most circumstances in my life. Perhaps you find this true as well.
As time passes, I frequently find in myself a distortion of these thoughts: I forget where my confidence comes from, where my identity comes from, and I start to manufacture my own. I sell myself, market myself.
I've always seen a caricature of this phenomenon in applying for a new job, as I have been doing recently. I have to puff my feathers up, present a character that I have created who is markedly more perfect for a position than everyone else's perfect version of themselves.
And, slowly, this character/caricature of myself, this chip-on-my-shoulder, something-to-prove Aidan takes on a new name: the "adult" or "mature" Aidan. One who is really invested in his employment, one who takes his professional self seriously, one who really knows what he’s getting himself into in getting married, especially at a younger age (spoiler: I really don’t, but that’s where an all-powerful, provident Redeemer, you know, comes in handy…)
But we are not called to be our "grown-up" selves. We are called to be childlike. We are called to marvel, to wonder, to be amazed and surprised at God's magnificent work around us.
As a preschool teacher, you would think I would have grasped this concept more fully by now.
A sense of wonder is something we, as responsible grown-ups, have to cultivate; it is truly childlike. A boy at my preschool recently became somewhat famous among teachers for being so excited by something as simple as numbers. His voice would climb even higher from an already high octave as he exclaimed, "...and two plus two equals FOUR!" Jake really loves his numbers, to a degree where I aspire to actively love something and be as amazed as he is.
As adults, so many people and institutions demand our certainty, our confidence. A constant asserting of ourselves can deaden our capacity for dependence, for need, for wonder. The world around us so often seems averse to these traits, but this is only because they don't trust in a perfect Savior, a perfect God, so they are left to cobble together their own kind of ego and identity.
I say this not to make a distinction between us lucky ones and those "homeless, tempest-tossed" (Emma Lazarus, "New Colossus") individuals who do not yet know Christ. The temptation to claim our advantage, our Divine Manifesto (yeah, that went well…), as believers is effectively quashed by the fact that our God is sublimely infinite. Faced with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, our meager human gains over "the others” are microscopic. But now I'm getting off-track and trying to sound way too mature and grown-up again...
When Jesus tells us that we are to humble ourselves "like little children" (Matt 18:2-4), he is calling us to wonder, not to think less of ourselves. Sure, children are physically weaker and potentially more innocent than adults (though my preschoolers bring make daily arguments to the contrary), but children don't often think less of themselves. I've seen far too many 3 year-olds rip a fire truck out of each other's hands to buy that notion.
What these children possess, then, is an unquestioned dependence. While playing, kids constantly check back to their parents to make sure they haven't left or to be reassured that it is, in fact, okay to slide down this slide. And, like Jake, they possess an inspired “self-forgetfulness” that allows them to just be outright fascinated by something new they have learned; rather than first checking internally how others will respond to their discovery.
When we regain this ability to wonder, we regain the ability to be surprised by God, who always wants to give us something better than what we create for ourselves. This belief is truly at the heart of a Christian life. It is the source of our hope, the reason that we can let our guard down, the reason we can humble ourselves like children before our God. We need to praise him to remind ourselves of His greatness and glory and goodness that permeates all of creation.
When we praise, we proclaim the infinite. When we are faced with the infinite, moreover an infinite good, the only fitting response is awestruck, childlike wonder. When we wonder at His goodness, there is only one outcome: we are moved to Love.
St. John Paul II, who loved the little ones so much, pray for us.