“[Jesus] sees in children traits and attitudes that are essential in anyone if he is to gain heaven, and, even in this life, if he is to enter the kingdom of faith. A child is devoid of even the slightest feeling of self-sufficiency. It is in constant need of its parents, and knows it. A child is fundamentally a being in need, and this is what a Christian should be before his Father God, a being in total need. A child lives fully in the present and nothing more. The adult’s less admirable predisposition is to look restlessly to the future, ignoring the here and now, the present moment, which ought to be lived to the full.”
—Fr. Francis Fernández Carvajal
To become like a child in the manor our Lord exhorts us is not an easy task. It is not easy to become a person who truly understands that we depend upon God whether we know it or not. It is not easy to trust the One when this trust requires faith and not certainty. It is very hard to live confidently in the awe and mystery of life when life can be so cruel and capricious.
I believe this is perhaps the greatest gift one can receive in spiritual direction. The gift of dependence upon the Father to guide us to what is best. This gift makes it possible to allow God to be both parent and friend.
Living in a fallen world that seeks to deceive us into believing we are our own salvation and masters of our own fates leads only to suffering and grief. It limits our spiritual creativity, stunts our growth in faith, and often leaves us bored and depressed because we are not aware of the loving presence always by our side.
Seeking to be child-like (not childish) opens us up to divine play and merriment. Such seeking makes talk with the One who love us so more open, honest, and receptive to the wisdom and true compassion that only God can provide.
Working with those with dementia has shown me that those who have maintained their child-likeness can find happiness and meaning even as they lose their ability to think. I have also found that those who have maintained their childishness are more likely to be bitter, depressed, and frustrated as their perceived power slowly drains away.