What is so special about childhood that Christ made it the gateway to the kingdom of heaven? This is what I mean: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (cf. Mark 10:15); “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 18:3). And why would he refer to his apostles as his little children, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you.” (cf. John 13:33)? In fact, at a point he said, “Allow the little children to come to me because such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16).
We may not fully understand why until we take a close look at the characteristics of childhood; many of them.
Characteristics of childhood
Fearlessness: To start with, children don’t even know what to fear; they just go on with their thing. Of course, they begin to acquire fear as they grow older.
Creativity: Children make all sorts of things: design their toys, build houses, draw things, act funny, play around cooking, say their mind, etc. They just keep trying things out. Of course, they begin to save face as they grow older; they begin to want to impress other people and begin to obsess about what other people think about them. Too bad.
Trust: Everyone knows that child-like trust is an enviable trait. Children trust, and truly trust. Their default programming is to assume that people are truthful, that people are trustworthy. And as they grow up and begin to experience lies, backstabbing and backbiting, they begin to lose the ability to trust, and may sometimes lose every bit of it, which is why some adults cannot trust even one bit.
Ignorance: There is that point where ignorance is a virtue. Socrates is reckoned as the wisest man in the philosophic circle not because of his enormous wisdom but because of his profound ignorance; he knew that he knew nothing and then went in search of knowledge. Childhood is the very quintessence and paragon of profound ignorance, because a child’s mind, for John Locke, is a blank slate upon which nothing has been written. A child continuously learns, and keeps learning. Then the child grows up into adulthood and thinks he’s now full of knowledge, and begins to assume and presume things, and begins to be truly stupid. The William Wilberforce character in Amazing Grace said it best: I grew up and became stupid.
Forgetfulness: Forgiveness goes with forgetfulness, which is why we say, forgive and forget. Children’s memory is such that it remembers all the vital things and forgets all the trivial things; they truly forgive. Two children that just fought 10 minutes ago can be found playing together again without any memory of the fighting episode. In contrast, adults remember all the trivial stuffs and forget all the vital stuffs. A duel between adults can extend to their third and fourth generations, as they’ll pass on the seed of enmity to their children.
Persistent: It’s a done deal if a child wants something. She gets it by any means necessary. Of course, she doesn’t mind shouting down the church service or depriving everyone in the house their night rest. She wants food, she gets food – because she would keep at it until it is so clear to every stakeholder that it is food or no deal. It is only as she grows up that she begins to understand that there is such word as disturbance in adults dictionary and begins to shrink when the word is directed to her a number of times. Jacob was only being a child of God when he persistently insisted that, I will never let you go unless you bless me.
Shameless: Aha! Does she even care she’s naked? And if she doesn’t care a thing about nakedness, what else could she be possibly ashamed of? Nothing. And then she grows up and begins to be ashamed of everything including the very shape of her only face. Too bad.
Playful: Oh, my God! Everything is play! Even their teacher knows that the lesson can only make sense when it is turned into play. You know the meaning of kindergarten? It’s German for Children’s garden, and I don’t know of another activity that should happen in the garden aside play. And then we grow up and stop playing; we become way too serious than necessary. We begin to tell lies like all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy. Thank God some people now understand that work becomes play when you make your passion your profession.
Innocence: Oh, holy innocence! Oh, pure breed of God! Little wonder children are used to depict angels. Darn too innocent! Need I say more?
Inasmuch as we can’t become children again, we can at least reclaim these awesome characteristics that once belonged to us. It’s in us! We can become playful again. We can become persistent again; never taking no for an answer. We can trust God ‘childlikely’. We can become creative again. We can become fearless again. Et cetera. If you really don’t know how to do it, then make the nearest child your teacher; they can turn you into who they are.
Once my little nephew called on me to play a game with him, a game he probably invented himself. Guess what? He won me again and again and thoroughly laughed at me. It was truly fun; I laughed at myself too. But truth be told, he made me feel like a child again and I felt great as long as it lasted.
Again, I get a lot of compliments these days on my laughing and smiling. But almost nobody knows that I had to relearn that from the many babies – babies I mean – I meet every day. I do all I can to get them smile at me, and when they do, I smile back – and learn. I still do that every time I meet a baby anywhere.