I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.George MacDonald
Our world is so very complicated. Complicated technologies. Complicated relationships. Complicated laws. Complicated cities. Complicated issues. Complicated. We are drowning in the complicated, and though most of us don’t recognize it, we are hungry for simplicity. Actually, we are starving for it.
Sure, we love all of the cool things. Gadgets that monitor us and measure our activities appear to bring a world of useful insights. The social networks into which we plug, connect and inform us. The cars we drive tell us when to brake, when we’re wandering between the lanes, and how to get to our destinations. Our watches tell us when to stand or how well we’re sleeping and our phones are so deeply embedded into our days that, for many of us, the first and last thing we touch every single day is a collection of glass, plastic, circuits, and apps, without which, we are totally lost.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
Curiously, all of the cool things we use to entertain and distract ourselves seem to make time go faster. We lose ourselves in it all. Our devices even tell us how much we’re addicted to them by tallying the hours, yes, hours, we spend on them. Waiting in line, we kill the empty time with mindless scrolling. Sitting in traffic, we distract ourselves from the banal, by flipping through our feed or peeking at YouTube videos. Bored in our meetings, we pretend to take notes while watching our phones for any signs of someone offering to interrupt us. Every bit of it rushes us along faster and faster, creating FOMO, anxiety, shorter attention spans, and an ever growing need for more of it.
But this post really isn’t about the darker aspects of our smartphone addictions, the insidiousness of social media, or the dumbing-down of humanity as we are required to think less and less. I’m more interested in exploring a compelling antidote to the complications we create in our lives. Last week, I wrote of the opportunity hiding in complexity and compared the necessities of complexity with the burdens of complications. In short, the world is necessarily complex but it is often we who make it complicated.
Recently, I entered my house and found my four-year-old grandson, Cooper, standing nearly face-to-face with his Nanny (my wife Sally), hands cupped on her face, staring intently into her eyes. “Tell me again, Nanny,” he said. I listened as she repeated the story, for the fifth, or tenth, time. Sitting nearby, was our 2 year old granddaughter, Reagan, scribbling on a piece of paper, while simultaneously listening and jabbering away about Elsa. I say jabbering but it was actually quite coherent as she told, and retold, her version of the Frozen story.
Pausing for a moment, I was initially struck by the chaos of the scene until I noticed something: it was really very ordered. There was a lot of activity, but it was unencumbered with any particular need for direction or conclusion and absolutely centered on the present moment. The children were in their natural state and enjoying it completely. Sally was responding by being fully childlike.
What does it mean to be childlike? We often associate the child with simplicity. Simple likes and dislikes. Simple reactions. Simple thinking. Simple entertainment. What a simplistic perspective.
Our children are not simple. They are actually incredibly complex. However, they are complex without being complicated.
Sally was fully present for Cooper and Reagan. She surrendered to the moment. “Tell me again Nanny” was an invitation to be childlike; it was a call to enter a world where yesterday holds no sway and tomorrow doesn’t matter. “Tell me again” is a ticket to Neverland or Narnia, and the journey into this moment in a way we’ve forgotten. To be childlike is to see the magic in the mundane: the mystery of the worm on the sidewalk or the possibility of the low tree branch, seemingly made for little hands to grab and swing upon.
Surrendering to the childlike, we experience the awe and wonder of the world with open eyes and an open heart. Think about it for a moment. The child accepts what he or she sees at face value. He sees no guile or deception. She assumes good intention until proven otherwise. The world is a collection of endless possibility. “Tell me again” is the thrill of right now and an endless curiosity unbounded by the limitations of reality.
But we can’t live in the fantasy world of children, right? After all, the big bad wolf is waiting at the door: mortgages, deadlines, traffic, responsibility. Ours is a complicated world and hiding from it isn’t going to help us. Tomorrow is coming and childish escapism won’t help us solve the real problems. Ah, yes, the complications.
To be childlike is to surrender to the present moment but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t anticipate future moments. “Tell me again” is all about anticipation but it’s a different kind of anticipation. It is impatiently joyful as it revels in the simplicity of this moment and the one right around the corner. Not complex? Children absorb everything. Absolutely everything. They hear your words and your tones, they watch your facial expressions, and they miss little of anything you do. All of it is pure, curious, and focused. It is only simple in that it is unburdened, but don’t confuse that with a lack of ability to process complexity.
Childlike anticipation is informed but stubbornly hopeful. Running off to Narnia right now doesn’t mean we don’t have to clean up our toys in the moments to come, however, the childlike refuse to let those future moments lessen the joy of the one in which we currently exist.
When was the last time you cupped someone’s face and looked intently into his or her eyes? I see you. I hear you. I am fully present for you. Tell me again. Look closely. The eyes are absolutely windows to the soul. That sparkle you see is the Divine that exists in every human being. We may need to be reminded sometimes, but it’s there. “Tell me again, Nanny.” Yeah, we can all stand to be a bit more childlike.