Joy. Laughter. Simplicity. Light.
These are gifts, raw and beautiful, given so we can experience life in its fullness.
There is more, always more, like tears and rage and thickened heart beats that stir our souls toward something, all invoked by what? Words, sights, sounds, smells, nature, relationships, encounters with others or perhaps even something Holy.
But we don’t always respond in a way that leans into the richness and fullness of life. As we grow, we learn through society to repress it, to distract ourselves, to not get too attached. We are stronger than all that, we say. We need to be. In our culture, strength is seen as success and emotion is often seen as childish.
When we were younger, it was all so much closer, this instinct to respond in fullness. When we saw a field dotted with flowers, we gladly flew through it, letting our fingers rifle through tall and wispy strands of grass, our hair wild behind us and dirt and sweat mixed with the joy found on the corner of our lips. We may remember and feel the same slivers of joy now, but it is more distant, less tangible.
And tears. Tears which fell in an instant at the smallest of offenses. All these emotions, big and small, mixing and taking over our bodies. But slowly, we learn. We learn to stuff it or to hide it or to cope with it or to rely on it or to use it to our advantage or to let it control us or to make us more whole of people.
It takes work. Deep work that has no timeline, unique to each of us. Sometimes growth occurs without much intention, but mostly, if we are to live life fully and not, as Mary Oliver wrote, “simply having visited this world”, there is a breaking we must go through.
The author and educator, Parker Palmer, writes about this breaking of our hearts into a “new capacity”. It is not so much a breaking that shatters our hearts, but rather one, that while it brings pain, actually expands our capacity for love and compassion.
And now, I wonder, how do we capture the heart of the young and set the child in our heart free? How do we allow this outer coating to be pierced so light can dance within us and we can join in the wonder again? How do we break open to this old-and-young-at-the-same-time capacity?
I sit in silence and then, I see it. In a form of a toddling child, who spotted me after walking around the corner. A simple and infectious joy radiates across his entire face and then, the running of his little legs, learning more coordination every day, to come and embrace and just be close to his mama. I am his everything. He learns trust and security and warmth first through the steady smile of his mama, the reassuring voice and enveloping arms that says just being in this world is enough.
This is what I am most thankful for, this reminding and this breaking open. A little nudge that interrupts and reminds me of the richness and fullness of life, that this work is important, too. Maybe the most important I will ever do.
Children. We need them in our presence. We need their insights and hearts and light to break us open and remind us of what it means to live life with fullness. We need to help them keep as much of that fullness and wholeness as they can. There was a famous rabbi who lived 2000 years ago, Jesus, who is recorded to have stood on the side of the smallest and weakest in his community, amplifying their voice and protecting them from being pushed aside and hushed up. Children were included. He saw their worth and affirmed it, even saying that we need to be more like children in order to be a part of this subversive and counter-cultural thing called the “Kingdom of God”. And I wonder if maybe he also knew he needed the refreshing reminder of the pure presence children bring.
It can be hard for a child, in a world so centered on adults – built physically for their needs and structured for their engagement, a society which tends toward thinking of children as just being “adults in training” – to know they belong. To know they have value here and now as they are.
Children are on a spiritual journey just like the rest of us. And they will have so much to sift through as they grow, just like many of us have. It is so important for them now, to be spiritually nurtured, to remain tethered and have a place of security to turn to when things begin to shake. Because they will. And I know that as my own children grow, I long for them to see that the way of peace and radical love that Jesus taught is relevant and life changing and world shifting.
When we welcome them and allow our souls to be disturbed and shaken loose, learn to laugh together and remember that their noise is as much of a prayer as our silent reverence is, that we are all traveling together on this beautiful, messy journey, I wonder how much more vibrant and joy-filled our communities could be.
I wonder how much larger our capacity for compassion and love might be.
I wonder how much more we could respond in fullness to all that life brings us.
I wonder how much more our children will know who they are and how beautiful they are and how much meaning they can bring to the world.