|As Little Children||June 6, 2005|
At church on Sunday we sang, “I Stand All Amazed” for the sacrament hymn. I’m the type that mumbles through hymns and mostly just listens. Immediately behind me a voice rang out, singing beautifully with grace and enthusiasm. I wondered to myself who the singer could be until I was able to steal a momentary glance at its source. Much to my surprise, it was one of the MIA Maids in the ward. I remember when I used to sing like that.
My son Park graduated from preschool today. That and the beautifully singing MIA Maid and the post at Times and Seasons about the role of mothers has made me nostalgic for childhood. It’s customary to talk about how children approach the world with a sense of awe, but they really don’t—not generally.
Christmas morning brings presents from a fat man who drives flying caribou and climbs down chimneys. The truth of this Santa story is as painfully obvious to most children as the reality of the presents they open. No sense of awe there. That’s childlike.
When my daughter Emily was learning to swim, she loved for me to throw things into the pool so that she could swim out, dive to the bottom, and get them. This simple pattern of retrieval made her so proud. One day, on my way out the door I grabbed the metal beaters from an old mixer to throw into the pool. After several successful retrievals, the beaters just plain disappeared. Emily was terribly disappointed that she couldn’t find them. I kept reassuring her that it didn’t matter, but her failure to retrieve them ruined her day. She cried herself to sleep that night over those lost beaters. The next day she awoke as cheerful as ever and ready for a new day. That’s childlike.
I watch my daughter interact with her friends at school. She’s so happy just to be with them, smiling from ear to ear, leaning to listen, trying to speak up every now and then, but usually failing to get a word in edgewise. She’s not unsure of herself, she’s just a little shy. She’s so different from me. I love to be the life of the party, and when I see how she struggles, my heart goes out to her, until I realize that she’s her own person, and this is what makes her happy.
To be a child is to have hopes and expectations, to be trusting, to suffer disappointments and remain resilient, to feel happiness, all the while unfettered and unspoiled by suspicions and ulterior motives and cynicism. To be a child means to have a courage that few adults have, a courage to face the world again and again with determination and without affect or pretense. It’s tempting to think that we lose this when we learn to cope with the world and its difficulties, but that’s just rationalization. Christ tells us that “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
So when do we accumulate all of this baggage? We’ve all got it. At some point, we started walking around puddles of water instead of stomping through them. At some point, I started mumbling through hymns. At some point, it became routine to cage anger and frustration so that it could seep out in snide asides.
Every now and again we must try to shed the bitter scales of our cynicism. I don’t know how I’d ever be able to do this without the help of children.