One of the most surprising things about being a parent is the number of times I realize that my children are really the ones teaching me. Of course, they’re very small, and they’re not teaching me academic information. Instead, they have consistently taught me some very powerful lessons about much more important things like what it means to be a human being, what really matters in life, and often what it means to truly have faith and to truly love.
There’s a big mis-information campaign in our world today which tries to teach us that children aren’t important, and have no real value. This happens in a very obvious way through abortion, but also in more subtle ways, like contemporary arguments and discussions about the meaning of marriage, which push children to the side, as if they’re an accessory. In contrast to this view which treats children as unimportant and even unnecessary, we have these striking words from Jesus:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18: 1-4)
With that said, I’d like to share a lesson I’ve recently learned about humility from my daughters.
Like all little kids, my daughters like to play. And although we have a room for them to play in, they often move outside of that space and wind up in the living room, bringing their various toys with them. Inevitably, when I get up with them in the morning, or when I get home from work in the afternoon or evening, my oldest daughter, Faustina, will ask me to play with her. Sometimes I’m legitimately busy trying to answer an email, but more often than not, I try to sneak in a text message or check Facebook while we’re “playing.” Lately, she’s added some clarification to her request: “Daddy, I said pway with me, not watch me pway.” Ouch. Another request I often get is: “Daddy, some sit on the floor, not in the rocking chair.”
Two things enter in here for me.
First, the stunning fact that I use my phone often enough that I have a hard time putting it away for ten minutes to play with some blocks with my daughter or help her find the right Lego to finish her latest towering building. I’m not really a big ‘tech’ guy, and honestly there’s not much going on on my social media pages in the average day. Faustina’s honesty, though, and her lack of worry about making me feel uncomfortable, cuts me to the heart. She doesn’t want 50% of my attention; she wants it all. The same is true in the spiritual life.
Think about it for a minute. How much of us, in our spiritual lives, are like the standard Facebook addict. We turn to God when we need something, or when it’s really important. Then a few minutes later, He’s in the rear view mirror, and we’re back to our regular lives. The instant gratification, the quick fix, the mindless entertainment. When I ignore my daughter’s request to build a tower with the blocks, I have to realize what I’m doing. I’m saying “no thanks, not important” to a person created in the image and likeness of God, who was given as a tremendous gift and an even more serious responsibility to me and my wife! Why would I ever want to turn away from her?
When it boils down to it, I don’t want to turn away from her. That’s not what’s at the deepest level of my heart. But when life is busy or stressful or I’m tired because the baby didn’t sleep last night or if I’ve got some stupid email to send, it’s easy to pretend like I have more important things to tend to. I have to stop believing that lie, and ask myself what really matters, what’s deep down in my heart, and what is cosmically significant. The answer? My daughter. Not my twitter notifications.
Second, the importance and significance of getting down on the floor to play. The standard posture for prayer, for most Catholics, is kneeling. We do this, of course, most naturally, in church, where there are pews designed to be knelt in. But another important posture is to lay prostrate on the floor. When you have little kids, you spend a lot of time on the floor playing with them on their level. Lately, every time I’ve gotten down on the floor to build a new masterpiece with our blocks or to help my daughter put together a puzzle, I’ve been reflecting on the humility of that action. When was the last time you laid down on the floor to pray? Probably a long time, right?
Let me make a suggestion: give it a shot. St. John Paul II was known to lay prostrate in prayer for hours on end. Children have a certain religious sensibility about them, and this comes about most clearly in their humility. So many of us grown-ups can easily get used to the idea that we’re super important, sophisticated, etc. Nothing so much levels the playing field as being on the ground, lowering oneself physically in a way that mirrors the humility of heart we’re called to by Christ.
So, if you’re a parent, put the phone away, and go play with your kids. Go learn from them what humility looks like and learn to show them the attention that God wants us to give him, namely our full attention.