When I was a child, I was convinced that I could fly. I would run as fast as I could, and when I picked up enough speed, my soul would leap. Up I would soar, above the rooftops, looking down upon the tops of the trees. How many five-year-olds could describe in complete detail what the top of a tree looked like? I could.
Many years later, my youngest daughter said out of the blue, “Hey, did you know that when I was little, I could fly?” Her cheeky 18-year-old grin brimming with delight. She described how she would run down the hallway at top speed and then just “take off.” “Pretty impressive indoors without witnesses,” I said. She just smiled knowingly, “I could, you know.”
The conversation started me thinking about how as children we live so intently in the present moment that our souls soar. Like my own grandson’s boundless joy at the discovery of music. Whenever he hears a tune, be it Mozart, the sounds of the rainforest or the Bluey theme song, he can’t help but stop what he’s doing, turn around with a broad smile, and bob up and down with delight.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Children are small in stature, though they grow at a faster pace than at any other time of life. They are inquisitive, but lacking in wisdom. They trust those closest to them, yet are weary of new faces. Children learn quickly and believe what they are told to be true. They give love generously and will often show great empathy towards the pain and sorrow of others.
Living in the moment, children do not worry about the next hour, their next meal, or what tomorrow may bring. When they are hungry, they will eat. When they are tired, they will sleep (eventually!). When they are happy, they laugh effortlessly, and when they hurt, they cry just as easily. If a child is secure and comfortable in their home, they will be happy, and they will remain that way unless external factors of life disrupt that security.
As a family, we moved around a lot. The youngest of six children, there was always someone to play or fight with. We had a dog, a bird, a guinea pig and fish. My dad’s work meant he was away a lot. For a period of time, my mom worked nights as a telephone operator. I remember we had a lot of freedom to play outside unsupervised, roaming the neighborhoods and getting into mischief.
I would say that our life was typical. We weren’t poor, but money was generally tight. When we didn’t behave, we were reprimanded. When we were good, we were rewarded with ice cream and trips to the swimming pool. I do not doubt the challenges my parents faced raising us. We could be loud. There were some strong personalities in the mix. We laughed an awful lot, but we cried too.
Growing up, I idolized my four brothers, and wanted to be just like them. If they were drinking from the garden hose, I wanted to drink from the garden hose. If they were playing kick the can, I wanted to play kick the can. If they popped wheelies and did skids on their bikes, I wanted to do wheelies and skids, too.
One summer day, at the age of about 4 or 5, when it was stinking hot as much inside as it was outside, my brothers took off their shirts to get cool. I promptly took off mine, stating matter of fact, “I’m a boy, so I can take my shirt off too!”
“You’re a girl. Shut up and put your shirt back on!” they responded in disgust.
My brothers drew a definitive line regarding appropriate behavior and their expectations of their little sister. Their approval meant everything to me. I put my shirt back on and was careful not to cross that line again.
Overall, our parents did the best they could. We were all baptized and raised in the Church. As the years went by and the kids started flying the nest, life got easier with less mouths to feed. As the youngest, I got more than the older kids did, though I wouldn’t say that I was spoiled. We were all expected to pull our own weight, find jobs and help out around the house.
When I was 20, I met the love of my life and married him six months later. Together we have four children, our youngest waiting for us in heaven. At 28, I suffered a terrible depression, and struggled with it again at two other significant times in my life. At the age of 42, I enrolled in university and got a degree, mostly just to prove that I could. I became a grandmother at 51 and I, like many before me, know there is no greater joy.
For the most part, I have been blessed with a good life. Every part of it has shaped me. Every skeleton a merit badge worn with pride. I have experienced bullying, abuse, shame, regret, abandonment, loneliness, pain, grief and despair. I have also had joy, love, laughter, opportunity, grace and blessings in abundance. I have no regrets when I look back, for to regret would diminish the meaning of the people and events of my life, what each gave to me, and more importantly, what they have taught me about myself and the world in which I live.
Only now am I beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he said we must become like children. We are like children when we shed the baggage of our life, and forgive those who have hurt us. It’s being humble and taking the first step towards reconciliation with those we have offended, or with whom petty disputes have kept us apart. It’s those moments when we let go and let God, leaving all of our worries and anxieties at the foot of the Cross.
Children do not take themselves too seriously, and neither should we. We should love effortlessly, laugh easily, and find joy in simple things, like music and dancing. To be like a child is having the instinct to accept sadness for what it is, a time to ask for help, show empathy, and open our hearts to those who hurt.
It is trusting in God the Father so much, that we do not worry about the next hour, our next meal or what may come tomorrow. Being generous without expecting anything in return, thankful for the past and hopeful for the future, and giving gratitude for the good as well as the bad that comes our way.
It’s opening up our hearts through prayer, letting go of the distractions of our minds, and connecting to Creation and our Creator. With practice, we can again live in the present like a child, soar above the trees, and come face to face with God.
Photo Credits all Pixabay: Trees - Jonathan Reichel; Girl in forest – Petra; Boy with magnifer – Alicja; Bike – StockSnap; Girls running together - Moshe Harosh; Girl and cherry tree - Elisa Boscolo