Last night as I hurried in from seeing a wedding couple I caught the tale-end of a TV programme called ‘The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds’. It was fascinating watching, an unprecedented look at the conversations, the interactions and the behaviour of a number of 4 year olds in a nursery. I was hoping to gain some insight from it that might help me to be a better Dad, but as I only caught the last 5 minutes I will have to Sky + it to watch it properly.
At the end of the programme there was a montage of the children saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. The sweetest little girl you ever saw wanted to be a nurse, one little boy wanted to be a fireman, another little girl wanted to have babies and another boy wanted to be a boxer (a fact which he then demonstrated by air boxing viciously whilst shouting “POW! POW! POW!”)
It was the last little girl that struck me most. She thought for a second and then said, “But I don’t want to grow up.”
WOW! I thought. Good answer! Why would anyone want to grow up? Why not stay a child and have none of the responsibility, none of the worry, doubt or fear. Why not stay untainted by these things, innocent and uncaring about everything except where Mum is and what’s for tea.
Let’s face it, our lives are filled with stresses and strains, pressures from all kinds of things, family, money, work, a want to ‘better’ ourselves or have more things, bigger houses, faster cars, ‘better’ bodies…. It’s all too much! As I grow older I can increasingly see the truth in the phrase ‘youth is wasted on the young’, and can testify that young people seem far too keen to be adults these days. As Guy Garvey of the group Elbow wistfully contemplated whilst watching a group of ‘lippy kids’ playing on a street corner, ‘Do they know those days are golden…?’ Why not stay a child forever and have none of the worry and stress, have someone take care of all of that for you and stay in the golden years of childhood.
As Christians we see ourselves as God’s children. God is our parent, there to protect and defend us. To ensure that nothing will harm us and to take responsibility for us. Some Christians see that as the perfect excuse never to ‘grow up’ in their faith. These Christians display the characteristics of small children in regard to faith. Their faith is self-centred, (‘Jesus is my personal Saviour’) it is emotionally driven (all about how it makes me ‘feel’) and it is intellectually empty.
Is this what Christ meant when he said we should become like little children? I doubt it. I always took that to mean that we should come to Christ with open hearts, ready to receive the change, growth and transformation that the presence of Christ brings. This is proper growing up in faith, proper spiritual maturity. It is acknowledging that a faith in Christ brings responsibility. For oneself, for others and for our relationship with our Creator.
Lent begins on the 18th February with Ash Wednesday. It is hard to think of a more grown-up occasion in the church year, than that moment when ashes are smeared on the forehead of the believer and the words, ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…’ are uttered sotto voce. It is both sobering and revelatory. We are not the centre of the universe. It is not all about us. Grow-up! Take some responsibility.
We do have much to learn from our children about all kinds of things. About unconditional love, about how to laugh and how to play and how to be open hearted. How to be non- judgmental and unprejudiced. Part of the challenge of maturity and of growing up into adulthood is how not to lose these precious things as we grow older and greyer and more cynical.
So perhaps we might use the season of Lent to grow up a bit in our faith. To think a bit more about it and to take some responsibility for it. We would do well to heed Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church as they struggled with becoming mature in their newly found Christian faith:
‘Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking;
rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.’ 1 Cor 14.20
Have a blessed and holy Lent.