Studying at UNC-Charlotte has afforded me the opportunity to study child development: how they understand the world and how they interact with parents. It has been enlightening and a little revealing to me of gaps in my own life due to the fact that we never really grow up: we just learn to behave in public.
When I was nine, my family lived in a brick home in town in a small neighborhood off the main highway. Ironically, the streets in the neighborhood were named after famous authors and poets over the past two hundred years; I had no idea. These were times when stringing blankets around the deck would become a shelter for a severe Siberian winter, and the floor was completely made of lava. My brother and I would have elaborate funerals for G.I. Joes who were killed in action and I saw my first comet. A little girl lived across the street who believed that if she shouted loud enough that people in airplanes would be able to hear her.
As children, imagination is everything, and almost anything is imagination. Anything can be anything. This is how we start, and most of us lose this ability as we grow older. Well, we don’t lose it, we just start to call our imaginations plans and dreams, and the behaviors that govern them convictions. The rules that govern “the floor is lava” are basically the rules that govern a flight through college, or finding a job: stay on the safe spaces as much as possible and plan your moves. The convictions are honed by family expectations, our beliefs, and past experiences.
Also, children find forms of attachment in their caregivers, which are generally their parents. Children are confident when they are confident in their parents. When situations change or something unknown comes into their vision, they re-establish connection with the parent to be sure that everything is on the up and up. These connections are crucial for young children and they will test them as a means of finding stability in their own identity. “Mom gets mad when I slam the cabinet, so let’s just see if she’ll get mad again.” In fact, consistent behavior in parents is the development of love that a child understands.
I was in Starbucks today and a little boy was getting into everything. He had bright blue eyes and a hat on backwards so nobody cared. He stopped and looked up at me… smiled and gave me a thumbs up. For some reason children like me and gravitate to me. In that moment, I looked at him through the eyes of an adult and saw complexity of eye contact and human interaction, but he looked at me through the eyes of a child with the simple question: can I trust you? I smiled to reassure him and he went about his business.
What we need to take away is the understanding of perspective. Children are closer to innocence then we are. They do not see the world through a lens of broken complexities. They can do anything they imagine and the world is pure, in many cases. This is a form of innocence we must nourish and protect, but also shape. While at the same time understand how it plays into our lives and why we do things. How I behave in a relationship is not all that different from how I would behave as a child, because romance is essentially moving attachments to a new type of family. This can give us great potential for influence and patience in other’s lives; great affect for the greater effect.
We need to learn to step away from how we understand the world. Yes, we grow wise with age, but we cannot lose the spark of innocence that gives us stability so that we are not taken captive by a world of cynicism. Step back and see the world through smaller eyes.
There are moments in life when faith hits and weak spot and all of our weakness comes pouring out at once; Caught in a pool of information and emotions that feel so alien and the hope that once felt secure passes through our hands that try and clinch it so tight. Is it that the hope has gone, faded from view and luck has looked the other way? It’s like falling from a train and tumbling through the weeds. The thought of getting back on seems foolish, let alone to where we were? Or are we to assume that where we were is where we should be?
These are moments of reality. Life is messy. We are given hope and instructions with provision, but we must walk through this world, bumping and falling along the way. Yes, we are called to be warriors, but deep inside this armor we are children who have never fully understood ourselves, but we think we do. We fall down and nobody sees that we race home as fast as we can with tears in our eyes. Even the strong fall and even the secure lose hope. I scribbled a quote from Neitzsche: “The strongest have their moments of fatigue”.
I suppose the important thing to do is almost nothing at all. It isn’t to assume that the faded emotions mean that we have lost our way, or that our falling means that we have fallen from grace. God is in control. This never changes. He saw our fall from the beginning of time, from the vantage point of the cross, and He is not caught off guard. Although we assume the wheels of our world grind to a halt, and skid along the path of life, He smiles with the tenderness of a Father who will come to His children and is closest to us when we feel farthest from Him. Like warriors we run against the enemy, and like children, we run to Him when we fall.
We aren’t alone because we feel alone; we are only alone when we reject the fact that He still loves us. The water in the river is just as present at the beginning as it is when it pours over the rocks. He has called the end from the beginning and faith calls us to put our confidence in that. I suppose this is what gave David words to say “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” and “though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Job fell through pain and came to the point of wishing he could die: no, that he hadn’t even been born, yet he said: “though he slay me, yet will I trust Him”. He came about to say “there is hope for the tree that is cut down because it’s shoots will not fail.” It will rise again. No matter the fall, there is always grace. No matter the heartache, there is healing. No matter the darkness, there is always light. “In the darkest night, men see the stars.” – Emerson
It’s not enough that we quote it, but that we open our hearts to the fact that He is present even when we don’t see Him and ask Him to show Himself as He wants to be revealed, not as we want to see Him. We would be with passion and want all now, but He wants us to experience Him in His time, not ours. Perhaps this is the price of trust; that is being broken, we are being remade into something much more beautiful. If we believe Him, let us also abide this truth in our hearts.
It is only human to fail and hurt. We must never be ashamed. I feel in my life that I am caught in a fog and loneliness and isolation fall. If I tell myself “I am alone”, what is that telling Him? In contrast, I am telling Him that I don’t trust what He has done. This is more to convince myself then anything because many things are mounted against me right now and I know I must stay strong if I want to finish strong and if this house of cards falls completely down, I must already know how I will respond, but I know that this world is no stranger to suffering. He is good and faithful and has been faithful and I must remember that. Our help is on the way. The onyl fear for the future is to forget how He has led in the past.