It was his last day of being four and well past his bedtime. But instead of being tucked up in bed, he was oh-so-carefully decorating cup-cakes to share at child-care the next day. The baby in a pale blue jumpsuit has gradually, or is that quickly, been replaced by a boy in skinny- leg jeans and a black Batman T shirt. He can do things on the family iPad that bewilder me. He has mastered riding a bike, can answer 20 questions concerning the names and exploits of Ninja turtles and loves a Peter Rabbit bedtime story. There’s something wonderfully engaging about a five year old.
I suppose it’s what we call innocence. It has nothing to do with right or wrong and everything to do with not yet being wounded by life. Like most pre-schoolers this particular five year old has done his time in the naughty corner, but adult expectations and prohibitions haven’t quite been able to suppress his bouncy individuality. His enthusiasms tumble all over the place and his emotions follow close behind. He’s embraced this gift called life, its vocabulary and physicality, its wonder and possibilities. At some deep level five year olds live out Jesus’ words, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full. “ (John 10:10)
I like to think that one of the gifts of aging, of moving through the becoming- a- grandparent- and -downsizing stage, is the invitation to rediscover the open-eyed wonder and freedom that life after five gradually eroded. School taught us how to be a student, how to live in relationship with others, even when that usually meant our ‘me-ness’ became dependent upon the opinion of others. Then we were pronounced an adult and expected to do something, and in the doing acquire things. That’s normal and it’s OK, but the danger is that our five year old self gets swallowed up by what Richard Rohr calls our false self.
Whatever out titles or roles, whoever we have been accustomed to think we are, is not who we are. That real me, the true me, the me that came sliding into the world, fresh minted from the hand of God, stamped with an individual and unique God-likeness, is still there waiting to develop into fullness and completeness. Mostly God waits for us to live out all the doing stuff before offering the time and space to begin to remember who we actually are.
Late adulthood can be seen as an invitation to become aware of the connection between God and our True Self, recapturing the spirit of our five year old self. Of course it won’t be exactly the same. Jesus wasn’t being literal when he urged us to become like little children. We can recapture the wonder but it will be tinged with the sadness of experience. We have the freedom to let go of inhibitions that for years have blocked the truth of who we are. We can experience the deep joy of exploring the creativity that we had forgotten or thought had gone forever. We can use longed for silence to rekindle our connection with God.
“I have come that you may have life and have it to the full. “ (John 10:10)