(Don't) Grow Up
By john van sloten
May 2, 2012
I have a friend named Lillian. Even though sheʼs in her seventies, sheʼsyounger than me. She is so alive, and she always seems to be laughing out loud. Every time I talk with her, sheʼs brightly attentive and exudesthis wonderfully genuine sense of joie de vivre. She refuses to act herage. When I see her this way, she reminds me of God.
Writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “It may be that [God] has the eternalappetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Our capacity to be amazed and to wonder seems to diminish with age. Wedonʼt look behind, beyond and beneath things as much; nothing surprisesus anymore. Weʼve grown old, and our imaginative vision fades along with our cataract-clouded eyes. This malady, this loss of our childlikeness, is a huge impediment to seeing God in the world. Our lost innocencedeadens our senses.
We canʼt go through life as though everything is brand new. But we have to be very careful about how much we think we know. We need to knowthings, while realizing at the same time that we really donʼt know muchat all and that there is still so much more to learn.
Children are naturals at knowing things this way.
Leaving room for the new and unknown
Children are young enough and still humble enough to realize that what they know isnʼt everything there is to know. Of course, none of us ever reallyknows that much, relatively speaking, yet we tend to lose touch withthis grounding perspective. We lose this healthy humility of childhood.We think we know how God works. Or we think weʼve seen all there is tosee of God in life. We go to church, sing a few songs, help at the local soup kitchen, read the Bible once in a while and think we knowsomething. We settle for what we think we know and, by doing so, leavelittle room for a greater knowing. Maybe itʼs because weʼve neverexperienced God in ways other than the narrow conﬁnes of our own lives.
But what if God is new every day?
Writer Madeleine LʼEngle once observed that Jesusʼ mother, Mary, “was littlemore than a child when the angel came to her; she had not lost herchildʼs creative acceptance of realities moving on the other side of the everyday world. We lose our ability to see angels as we grow older, and that is a tragic loss.”
Realizing we donʼt know anything about God right now, relatively speaking, is agood start. I need to appreciate that in God years, Iʼm only an infant—and always will be. If that seems too hard to swallow, simply put whatyou think you know next to what God knows, and you shouldnʼt have aproblem. Itʼs part of becoming like a child. Like the writer of Psalm103, imagine your life ﬁlled with a renewed sense of carefree wonder:“He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal. He renews your youth—youʼrealways young in his presence” (v. 3, The Message).
Growing up, not growing oldIn Jesus we see a model of what it means to grow up without growing old.Jesus was childlike with His whole being, while at the same time He wasfully mature. He was young enough to hear his Fatherʼs voice andplayfully announce the Kingdom of God in the ordinary stuff of everyday life: ﬂowers and weeds, losing and ﬁnding. Jesusʼ childlikeness fully ﬁt with His grown body and mature mind. I want to live in that elemental childlike place Jesus calls me to.
Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at the University of California, speaksin her new book, The Philosophical Baby, about a childʼs amazing capacity to enter into other worlds and to interact with imaginary friends, Icouldnʼt help but remember Jesusʼ call to participate in a kingdom thatis here but not fully here. It seems to me that this same ability iscritical for knowing that a Holy Spirit invisibly walks with me andleads me into a new world.
In her book, Gopnik writes that children are mysterious and, therefore,are closer to and more at home with mystery. Childrenʼs amazing brainplasticity—“the ability to change in the light of experience”—allowsthem to process change at an incredible pace. Because a babyʼsbrain—especially the prefrontal cortex—is immature, levels of inhibition are much lower than in adults, leaving the child “open to anything that may turn out to be the truth.” Babies fully engage in and receiveparental love—they do not grasp the risks, of course—and that love equips them to imagine, to learn and to grow.
The young and the young at heart are often the ones who most deeplyresonate with the idea of God revealing Himself in the world. They arewide-eyed enough to think it could be true, open-minded enough to trustand imaginatively attuned enough to see.
“For my part,” wrote nineteenth-century British poet and novelist GeorgeMacDonald, “I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whetherof ﬁve, or ﬁfty, or seventy-ﬁve.” I believe God communicates the sameway.
Our challenge is to reengage our imaginations and listen accordingly.
I often wonder if our God-given ability to imagine— what children donaturally—is the discernment tool for apprehending and engaging Godʼsmysterious movements in the world.
When you consider that God made this world out of His imagination and thatGod created us with the capacity to imagine, doesnʼt it make sense thatthis faculty, more than any other, might be crucial for our ongoingrelationship with God? It makes sense that God gave us imaginations sowe could experience all that Heʼs imagined—in a way that only ourimaginations can grasp.
Imagination, it seems to me, is the place where the created and the Creator meet, where the material encounters spirit.
Reprinted with permission from The Day Metallica Came to Church, (c) 2010 Faith Alive Christian Resources, May 2012. To order a copy of this resource, please call 1-800-333-8300 or visit www.faithaliveresources.org.