To give you an idea of the expansiveness of my family: Yesterday, my oldest nephew turned 25. Today, a nephew somewhere in the middle turned 9. On Sunday, my youngest nephew will be 3 weeks old. There are 4 more nephews and 4 nieces filling the spaces in between those boys. I’ve been an aunt since I was 3 1/2 years old.
I am not the same aunt now as I was then. That’s the thought that came to me as I was writing out yet another birthday card and signed it, “Love, Auntie Carrie.” The manner of my love, the things I’d like to teach them, the ways I hope to be an example, and the wishes and worries I have for them… oh, how that all has changed. This train of thought curved around to other realms of my life – being a sister to my 6 older siblings, a daughter to my parents, a friend to my friends. I considered how much growth is required in order for those relationships to not just endure but to bear fruit. With growth and change and maturity, relationships are richer. Without… it strikes me as unnatural to fight against change and growth for the sake of “keeping things the same.” It’s a losing battle. It doesn’t mean I don’t fall into that well-intentioned mistake at times, but if I take a step back and look at things with some clarity I have to conclude that nothing stays the same and nothing should. There are realities that are constant and lasting but such characteristics do not imply sameness.
The place where I find a paradox is faith. In Scripture we are instructed on the importance of leaving behind the ways of a child in order to mature as adults in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 13) but also the necessity of having faith like a child (see Matthew 18 and Mark 10). I’ve always struggled with that concept of having childlike faith. I’m one for going deeper, for learning and understanding more, for having tangible evidence that I’ve matured in faith. Seeing childishness as a vice in most areas of life, it’s tough to view it as a blessing when it comes to faith. I can explain the concept of childlike faith with my mind but have difficulty practicing it with my heart.
Occasionally I get a heart-reaching glimpse at the truth though. In RCIA class this week I taught on the topic of prayer. A broad topic that encompassed a lot of things. When I teach, I attempt to read the expressions of the candidates as they listen. Blank stares are tough to work with but anything else can be a real help to know if I should continue explaining a point or if it’s time to move on. At this class there was a moment where the need to explain further was blatantly obvious in the face of one candidate. I’d said that there was a significant difference between only bringing our needs to the Lord in prayer versus actually leaving our needs with the Lord in prayer. As I expounded on that statement it dawned on me that here was an instance of having ‘faith like a child.’
When a child, full of trust, brings a need to a parent, the child leaves the need there in Dad’s or Mom’s hands. He has no reason to continue to be bothered by it for he knows that his parent will take care of him. This is easily seen in the child’s faith as well. I have heard the prayers of my nieces and nephews, simple and self-assured. They are not weighed down by the things they have just whispered to God. I, on the other hand, bring plenty of needful requests to God. I have the knowledge that He loves me, that He will care for me, that He loves everyone I might be praying for, and yet I usually go out of the room (so to speak) carrying those same petitions in my arms. It is not so much an entrusting of needs to the Lord as an effort to show them to Him, like I’m making sure He’s aware of them. Being the capable, mature adult that I am (that’s a debate for another time), I go on attempting to answer the petitions myself. I go on striving for resolutions, worrying over dilemmas, dwelling in sorrows. I do not leave them with the Lord! How very, very unchildlike of me.
I am not promoting a lack of growth in the Christian soul. My faith should not look the same as it did when I was seven or seventeen or even twenty-seven, though that be merely a year ago. My prayer life should not look the same. The shape of the light that Christ radiates through my life should not be the same.
Again, it is not sameness that is to be attempted. This time it is retention.
Retention of the trust I had as a child, of the confidence in the Lord’s love which used to not just sustain me but overflow into rich joy in my soul.
Retention of the willingness to surrender – a willingness that allows me to tumble into the Lord’s warm, capable hands and, when He helps me stand back up, to not pick up the needs and sorrows that fell into His hands along with me.