Like little children

Francis Fernandez

Children of God (The life of spiritual childhood preached by Saint Josemaría)


God expects us to behave in keeping with what we are: weak, young children ever in need of his help. We should live like children, always trusting in their heavenly Father. Though not every saint has done so explicitly, a dependent attitude characterizes them all, for the Holy Spirit brings it about. He inspires in us a pure heart typical of innocent children, even when faced with pain and hardship. “A foolish child wails and stamps his feet when his loving mother puts a needle to his finger to get a splinter out. A sensible child, on the other hand, perhaps with his eyes full of tears – for the flesh is weak – looks gratefully at his good mother who is making him suffer a little in order to avoid much greater harm. Jesus, may I be a sensible child.” (Saint Josemaría)

We are to understand that behind sickness, professional setbacks, and the like is found the provident hand of the Father, who cannot stop watching out for his children. Spiritual childhood leads us to accept with a joyful and thankful heart whatever life has to offer, be it sweet or bitter, as something sent or permitted by One who is infinitely wise and could not love us more.

A life of spiritual childhood entails simplicity humility, and abandonment, but not immaturity. “A foolish child wails and stamps”: l’enfant terrible is immature of mind, heart, and emotions; missing are self-discipline and moral struggle. Such an infantile attitude is compatible with any age; it stems from not seeing oneself as a true child of God. Authentic spiritual childhood betrays a mature mind: supernatural outlook, pondering events in the light of faith and aided by the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Yet, given that, it is not any less simple or uncomplicated: “a sensible child… looks gratefully…” Conversely, far from this life of childhood is the immature person, fickle with respect to desires, ideas, events, emotions, bobbing like a cork on the waves and trapped within his own ego. Yet a sensible child, weak but simple, is wholly out to glorify his Father God.

In Christian life maturity comes only when we make ourselves children before God, children of his who trust and abandon themselves in him, like a toddler in his father’s arms. Then we see earthly happenings for what they are, in their true value, and our only concern is to please our Father and Lord.

To become childlike (but not childish) is a spiritual path requiring the supernatural virtue of fortitude, lest we not overcome pride and self-sufficiency. Such hinder us from behaving as God’s children and lead, when confronted with repeated failures, to discouragement, barrenness, and loneliness.

A Christian who sets out to live a spiritual childhood finds living charitably easier, because, as St. Maximus of Tours remarks, “a child is a creature bereft of resentment, unfamiliar with cheating and deceit. A Christian, like a small child, meets insult with equanimity… and doesn’t seek revenge when treated badly. Even more: God demands of him to pray for his enemies, to give up his tunic and mantle to those in need, to turn the other cheek when buffeted.” A child easily forgets and does not nurse wounds, he becomes in fact a relative stranger to suffering.

Spiritual childhood keeps its love always fresh, because simplicity soon dismisses from the heart negative experiences. “You’ve become younger! You notice, in fact, that getting to know God better has made you regain in a short time the simple and happy age of your youth, including the security and joy – without any childishness – of spiritual childhood... You look around and realize that the same thing has happened to others: the years since they met up with God have gone by and, having reached maturity, they are strengthened with a permanent youth and happiness. Although they are no longer young, they are youthful and happy!

“This reality of interior life attracts, confirms, and wins over souls. Give thanks for it daily ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem, to God who fills your youth with joy.” (Saint Josemaría) God truly rains down joy on the unending youth of the beginnings, middle years, and old age. God is always the greatest joy in life if we live as children before him, as tiny and ever needy creatures.