A little more than three years ago, I was gifted a book which brought me along an unexpected path as a theologian. It was the book Dame la mano y danzaremos: La niñez como desafío teológico y pastoral (tr. Give me your hand and we will dance: Childhood as a theological and pastoral challenge). It was a book and a gift that became a new path for me, and a journey of discovery into a fascinating theme which was full of challenges, and at the same time led me to meet some wonderful people.
One of the stops along this route was a workshop on the experience of God which I took part in, along with a congregation of Mexican priests as part of their ongoing training. It was almost unthinkable for me, an “inexperienced” layperson, to speak to and with priests about my experience of God. After much thought, I decided to choose the theme of childhood and think about how my experience as a mother had allowed me to enter into a different experience of God, which could offer topics for reflection. This was how I put pen to paper and allowed my heart to speak about what I had learned from my children. I will share some of those reflections here…
Why do I want to use the starting point of my being a mother? Because my experience of God in recent years has primarily come from my experiences with my children, learning from them, accompanying them and specifically learning to become a mother through their gestures, their words, their embraces, their actions, their journey…
When they were new-born, the first thing I learned was the absolute dependence that a baby has on their mother; a dependence which can be summed up in the loving embrace which encircles the existence of everything; a presence which feeds the body, which cares for life and helps the growth of the person.
With this development, a process of detachment and mutual learning also begins, which the father shares in too; it is a process in which a new language is shaped and learned, and through this language, we understand what needs lie at the heart of every person ( relating to hunger, sleep, pain, cold, heat, the need for love or even the need to be alone).
As they begin to express themselves more and more, one of the most enjoyable learning journeys begins: discovering what makes the infant laugh and trying to make it happen as often as possible, thus a smile and, even better, the giggle of a child is capable of making a mother and father cry with laughter.
On taking their first steps, I learned that walking is a vital action in order to reach goals, and when they are not sufficiently confident on their feet, there is always a way of using a couch, or holding on to a series of objects in order to get to where they want to go, or simply by indicating to someone else that they need help to get to where they want to be.
When they start to discover the world, I learned that wonder is the fruit of encountering, again and again, the beauty and the essence of life. Flowers are beautiful because of their colours, shapes and aromas; animals are living beings and nature is a wondrous place, worthy of contemplation.
I learned that in order to gain knowledge, it is necessary to feel, to touch, to jump in, and to get involved with. Finding out about the world means touching it, having it in our hands; getting to know the world around us means exploring it deeply, even to the point of being up to our eyes in earth and making shapes in the mud; eating and recognising tastes also goes through the sense of touch, dirtying little hands, and even giving food to others to try.
Through their social interaction, I learned that talking to each one of them, with their uniqueness and their questions, as they discovered their own unique identity and adapted to their role in the family, helped me to rediscover my identity.
When they got to know other children, who didn’t have the same opportunities as they did, I learned to look at others and wonder about injustice; specifically finding out that there are no satisfactory answers because injustice is unjustifiable.
In their relationships with their friends, I learned that they share everything (even toothbrushes and sweets), because things can be enjoyed that much more when they bring about togetherness and fun. I also learned that “friend” is the greatest adjective that I could use to describe those close to me, because there is no better role than that of being my friend.
When they got upset, I learned that when they said “I don’t love you anymore” it only meant “this upset me”, and that a hug and a smile equally translated as “that’s not true, I love you very much and I know that you love me too”. I also learned that sometimes, in the heat of anger, closing their eyes was not because they didn’t want to see what was around them, but rather because they needed to take a moment to look inward.
Getting a hug from them helped me to understand that a tight embrace is able to communicate the deepest love, sense of belonging, and identity, freely given…
Talking to them about the faith and encouraging their encounter with Jesus helped me to understand that when the Gospel tells us to “be like little children”, it is because for them, Jesus is a friend, and being his friend means trusting him completely, since he is everything for them. He will accompany them and care for them, love them and share his love with them, guide them and forgive them unconditionally. I also learned that the sacred is not always found in the ostentatious displays of cathedrals, but rather in the simplicity and ordinariness of daily life.
Telling them stories, or sometimes, inventing stories, taught me that imagination and poetry can help give meaning to life and its events.
An important point is that as my family grew, I discovered that as Pope John Paul II said, “the heart of a mother does not divide with each new child, but rather it expands”; and I would add, it becomes more supple.
All of these learning journeys as well as many more, were due to my children, and thinking about it today, leads me to believe that this perspective allowed me to enter into an experience of God as a loving father and a close friend.
Nevertheless, looking back today, I believe that my adultcentrism often made me push them into a type of relationship, language and structures which limited their creativity and the essence of their beings, and meant that I learned less from them than I could have.
My adultcentrism meant that I never allowed them to fly, maybe because my own experiences weren’t good and because my personal fears outweighed my trust in them.
My adultcentrism once again stopped me from learning from them because my defiance was greater than theirs, and I always thought they had little to teach me; because I was confident in how much I could and should teach them about what I wanted them to know, through sermons from me, rather than through experiencing life itself.
My adultcentrism prevented me from creating and understanding new terminology with them, maybe because I considered that their words were not good enough, or rather, because I didn’t try to understand their meanings and saw them as being part of an incomprehensible language.
My adultcentrism did not offer adequate answers to their questions and today, injustice appears to have become normalised.
My adultcentrism led me to believe that I was the one who must explain things to them over and over again, rather than believing that sometimes my actions would be explanation enough, I forced them into the boring task of having to listen to me explain things over and over again.
With this simple experience, yet one which is full of life, I submerged myself in the theology of childhood , and little by little, I continue my journey of discovery because being like children is one of the conditions of being part of God’s Kingdom: I have found that Jesus’ mindset is similar to the mindset of children, since through his dependence on the Father, he enjoys absolute freedom.