Childish vs. Childlike

By: Mariann Hughes, Office of Communications

I’ll admit it.

I’ve never had much of a devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux.

Since she seems to be one of the most popular saints among girls these days (you know I’m right. Ask any young woman in her twenties what her Confirmation name was, and I’ll bet you it’s “Therese”), I usually get an incredulous reaction when I admit this – I’m more of a St. Joan kind of woman – swords and horses rather than roses. I grew up with brothers!

But there is one aspect of Therese to which I am attracted, and that’s her emphasis in her writings on being like a small child.

Before I grasped the concept, I rolled my eyes at the thought. On the surface, it sounds like a pious excuse to be immature or uneducated.

But in reality, it’s a thought that is quite beautiful.

If I take a step back a few years in my memories, I remember the satisfaction of being a new college grad, a freshly won job in my hands and the world at my command. Happiness level (on a scale of 1-10)= 5

A few years before that, I was giddy with excitement at being off on my own at college, thrilled at all the new experiences. Happiness level = 6

Before that, I was a starry-eyed teen enamored with the most wonderful boy on earth and the proud owner of a driver’s license and my very own 1998 Chevy Lumina. The world was colored in rose and gold and love and flowers and light and cooing birds. Happiness level =7

My pre-teen years were spent experimenting with the mysterious world of makeup, playing MASH, having sleepovers, giggling until 3 a.m., getting to go to the mall with my friends. Everything was wonderful, everything was an adventure. The teen years loomed ahead like a Disney road of life bliss leading to magical castle of possibility. To me, a 14-year-old was a paragon of life knowledge. Happiness level = 8.

Childhood saw me playing happily outside, perfectly grubby in my bare feet and overalls. The world was my mud-pie. Going a few miles down the road to my aunt’s or grandmother’s homes equated heaven, where kittens, soda and candy were limitless, banging on the piano was allowed, and a cabinet full of movies awaited me. Life could hold nothing more than those joys; it seemed as if no other pleasures in the world could bring me more peace and happiness than the security in those simple and constant things. Happiness level = 9

So, I’m using this “happiness level” analogy lightly, because I happen to currently be very happy! But it seems as I reach back into my childhood, the worries and cares become fewer and less overwhelming with each step back. I was more dependent on others.  Even though I don’t remember, I can only imagine that my infancy was much like any others’. While I’m sure I had my cranky moments, there was peace. I was fed, I was rocked to sleep. I didn’t have to worry about the future; in fact, I was blissfully unaware of what a “future” was. No bills, no repairs, no drama, no hurt feelings. Just pure love, given and received.

And I think that that is what it truly means to be “like little children.” Trusting, pure, peaceful, happy.

With the help of St. Therese, the words of the Gospel became much clearer:

“[C]hildren were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked [the mothers], but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Mt. 19: 13-14).

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