“So we’re evil?”
I posed the question to my four year old niece, Kate. The darling was looking up at me with limpid brown eyes, her face laughably earnest.
“Yes,” she affirmed. “You are the evil mother. And we” – here she beckoned to herself and seven year old Ian – “are your evil kids.” My nephew was less engaged in the make-believe play. He was inspecting some leaves.
We were in the midst of the woods, after all. The golden sun was just peeking down beneath the thinning foliage, casting a mottled gold upon the gravel path. It was calming, and I felt the gears in my brain slowing for the evening’s end. I was content to stroll along the woodsy avenue, drinking in the fading autumn evening in silence.
But, that was not something I could responsibly do. It was the inaugural “adventure afternoon with Aunt Sarah” – I had decided to take the children on a special outing each Sunday afternoon, just them and me. Contemplating this plan, I had idyllic thoughts of the fun we’d have…forgetting the energy I would require in order to keep up with their eager explorations.
As much as I hated to admit it, they’d begun to wear me out, and this imagination game was getting somewhat tedious.
In one hand I held a large stick, or rather, a small dead tree (Kate had snapped it off its trunk by herself.) It, she had informed me, was my staff. Another smaller, but crooked stick, was my wand. Upon my protest that most wizardly types could suffice with one or the other, she insisted I keep both. I gave in.
Kate continued her explanation of our present situation: “We’re evil, but we look pretty and nice.”
Now this peaked my interest. My niece seemingly grasped the dissonance that so often exists between heart and countenance. Even a four-year-old could comprehend the fact that we so often judge character by appearance.
“Why?” I probed.
“‘Cause we’re both wearing pearls,” she explained as she fingered the dainty three-strand adornment gracing her neck. (It was a present from me, and she had donned it especially for our woodsy adventure.)
“And they love pearls,” she breathed mysteriously.
“The trees,” she whispered, cocking her head slightly upward.
In that moment, I was struck by something. I remembered the glorious worlds that populated my own head as a child. It was thrilling when adults joined in the game, somehow endorsing the reality of fantastic plotlines (including fascinating twists, such as the apparent fact that trees love pearls). Why was I simply tolerating Kate’s mental wanderings instead of urging them onward? In my fatigue-induced lack of enthusiasm, I was dampening her delight.
I decided then that I could either embrace my role as a gardener, grooming her flourishing imagination, or I could sever the shoots of her whims by clinging to common sense and reality. Obviously, I would work toward the former.
As the afternoon proceeded, my niece and nephew dropped further bombs of wisdom.
“What is the meaning of life?” I asked Kate.
“I don’t think I know that,” she responded haltingly.
“Do you think anyone does?” I probed further.
“God,” she returned.
That made my heart well with pride. “You’re on the money,” I congratulated, taking the opportunity to explain the meaning of the idiom.
Ever-literal Ian then confirmed, “So that doesn’t mean you’re standing on money?”
Ian is every bit as literal as Kate is whimsical. Both children are absolute delights, revealing the beautiful diversity of personality and mental strengths which which God has blessed the crowning glory of his creation.
Following that afternoon, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s words took on new meaning for me. “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
Yet, beautifully, the children are not the ones who tire. They are ready and willing – albeit unconsciously – to teach us so very much about God, ourselves and others. We must only allow ourselves to experience their worlds to catch glimpses of the lessons the Lord is waiting to show us through them.
Matt 18:3 “And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”