I’m turning 63 today. Old enough to draw Social Security while it’s still around and young enough to enjoy life while I can still get around. So, I’m taking the day off and running an old newspaper column on the importance of being young at heart.
My wife would often roll her eyes and refer to pre-school Faith and Paul—and me—as her three children. Maybe it was our wrestling matches which involved pummeling each other with decorative couch pillows or all three of us making funny faces when Lois scolded us to “Be serious!” for family pictures. She probably had a point. Now that I’m a bit older—okay, a lot older—I can still act I like a 60-year-old pre-schooler. But I take comfort in the words of Jesus:
“So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
There is, however, an adult-sized difference between being child-like and childish. The apostle Paul writes:
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
I really have worked hard on knowing the difference and acting accordingly—most of the time. I still get the look from not only my wife but now from my children as well!
Child-like adults are trusting; childish adults, gullible
A sign at an old general store read, “In God we trust. All others pay cash.” We are taught to “trust in the Lord with all our heart” (Proverbs 3:5), but Jesus warns us to examine the “fruit” of those who claim to be His followers. Paul teaches “prove all things” and John warns to “test the spirits.” So, even though I admire the trust when children and grandchildren jump off furniture into my arms, I also want them to jump into the arms of trustworthy people.
Child-like adults are innocent; childish adults naive
Jesus teaches us to be “gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.” Or, as the Chinese proverb warns, “Fool me once, your fault. Fool me twice, my fault.” I want to extend grace to everyone I meet, but as I was warned by hosts in Third World countries, I’m going to always keep my back to a wall.
Child-like adults are enthusiastic; childish adults, impulsive
I’m still learning to look before I leap, weigh options before acting, discern long-term consequences and be careful that my ADD doesn’t get the best of me.
Child-like adults are imaginative; childish adults, delusional
This explains the lottery, Internet scams and grandiose dreams that often turn into disastrous nightmares. The neurotic builds castles in the sky; the psychotic moves into them.
Child-like adults are creative; childish adults, destructive
Does our unique approach to life build up or tear down, lift up or put down? A college president for whom I wrote promotional material once called me “dangerously creative.” At the time, I viewed it as the highest compliment. Now, I’m trying to be “cautiously creative.”
And child-like adults are curious; childish adults, nosy
Nothing was more fun as a pre-schooler than rummaging through my grandmother’s purse. I’m not sure why. There was little in there of interest to a four-year-old boy. I still have that curiosity, but now I have to watch myself that I am being curious about life, rather than a voyeur, gossip, or scandal-monger.
Child-likeness is essential for being a trusting, innocent, imaginative, creative, and curious child of God. But we need to be careful that it doesn’t become immature childishness.
C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “[God] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.”
Put away childishness? Yes! Put away child-likeness? Never!
Copyright © 2008 James N. Watkins
Pic: Lois with kids and grandkids: Hannah, Faith, Kaylah—and me