We spend a great deal of time and energy helping our children grow beyond childish behavior and ideas. And rightfully so. After all, we want them to mature, emotionally and relationally, as they approach adulthood. But is there any way in which we should encourage them to remain like little children – and even strive for that ourselves?
In matters of faith, of course, Jesus reminds us in each of the Gospels (i.e., Matthew 18.3) to trust Him as little children. And another way in which we should be child-like (not childish) is in terms of the genius quality of vitality.
“Vitality” in this context means, “being awake to one’s senses and totally and immediately responsive.” And little children – babies, toddlers, and preschoolers – are truly the ideal models of this trait. They immediately and quite naturally respond to what impacts their senses, and they demonstrate an innate desire to explore what they see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
The precious two-year old I babysit personifies this. She’s on the go from the moment she walks into my house each morning until her mom picks her up before lunch. First, she hurries to find my cats so she can pet them, and then she’s off to our playroom to see what new toys I’ve set out for the day. From there, she chooses one thing or another throughout the morning – sometimes the toy food and dishes, other times the puzzles or Little People, and always the books – rotating among them as her interests lead. When we go outside, she alternately revels in the wind on her face as we push her on a swing, becomes engrossed in sandbox digging, or embarks on a mission to collect sticks and leaves. We don’t need to instruct her to be interested in everything around her; she just is.
Sadly, too many children lose such vitality as they get older, and it’s exceedingly rare to find it in adults. Instead, we become so consumed with busy schedules and completing “important” tasks that we dismiss many natural opportunities to discover and learn. We allow ourselves to become “human doings.”
And that’s really a terrible infection. Of course, working productively is important. But if we – or our children – live on a treadmill of busy-ness, we hurry through each day without enjoying anything. We become overtired and overwrought. We lose our ability to think creatively and to treasure simple pleasures.
The antidote is time. We need to choose to make time in our lives – and in the lives of our children – to be like toddlers. Time to set aside the to-do list. Time, in fact, when we needn’t “do” anything in particular. Time to watch, think, and feel.
We don’t dismiss our need to accomplish our work – whatever it is. We simply acknowledge that, in order to be vital human beings, we also need time to just “be.” Striking the balance can be tricky. But it’s necessary for our well being and for that of the kids in our care.