This morning, as we were leaving church, I heard a teenager ask her dad: “Why do we need to go to church on Thanksgiving? It’s not a holy day of obligation.”
“Because we need to give thanks to God,” he replied.
The more I thought about this exchange the more I thought it captured the spirit of Advent. Jesus taught his disciples that unless they became like little children they would not enter the kingdom of heaven.
What does becoming like a child mean? I’m not sure about your house, but in ours, it could mean something vastly different depending on the minute.
Sometimes, it means being enthralled by creation as occurred yesterday morning when Abigail (age 4) awoke to find the season’s first light snowfall. She ran into our bedroom and looked out the window.
“I’ve been waiting forever for this to happen! I can’t believe it!”
There were a few squeals of delight before she scampered out into the backyard, in her spotted animal pajamas. She climbed the playset and took it all in before scurrying back into the house 30 seconds later to give us the breaking news: it was cold outside.
Sometimes, being a child in our house means contributing to a house that feels “lived in.” That’s a nice way of saying that one is at risk at any moment of stepping on a Lego and suffering permanent nerve damage in his or her foot.
What does becoming a child mean? And if we are to prepare for the coming of the Christ child during Advent by being more like children, how might we go about doing that? I’d prefer not to do the spotted animal pajama routine unless absolutely necessary.
The catechism teaches us we must “humble ourselves” and become little. Christ wants us to become like little children in our dependence on and trust in God.
That’s not easy. As adults we’re used to being in the driver’s seat. I can be late for work and skip morning prayer. But would I skip breakfast? Not exactly. My stomach would be aching before I pulled out of the driveway. And although God made the morning possible and is the reason I can take my first deep breath of morning air, he can quickly become overlooked.
Our kids do many things, but they rarely overlook us. If Teresa is at work on a Saturday, I will often hear, “When is Mom coming home?”
This morning, upon waking, I heard, “Dad, can you make pancakes before church?”
Then, of course, the younger ones need their clothes ironed.
“Dad, will you help with this?”
“Mom, will you help with that?”
“Dad, Joseph has the cat on his head.”
So when we hear our children ask us what seems like a stream of never ending requests, Christ wants to remind us that we should be taking the same tack toward the Father. When we wake up, are we as solicitous toward him as our children are to us?
Perhaps he won’t be making us pancakes this morning or ironing our clothes, but do we seek his guidance for the day?
That difficult situation at work — do we ask him to fill us with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can be patient? Perhaps there is someone that needs to be comforted today; do we ask him to help open our eyes so we may see them?
And when we see our children trust us to make the most significant life decisions with hardly a word of concern, Christ wants to remind us that our Heavenly Father wants us to be as confident in his ability to guide us.
Earlier this year, we picked up and moved to a different city. Abigail was 3. While the movers were going in and out of the house, she played. And when we relocated to our new home, she played some more. There was not a moment of concern or second-guessing her parents. She knew she was safe. And mom and dad would make sure she would visit her friends that used to live across the street.
So, as the great secular tradition of leapfrogging over Advent begins in earnest, let’s focus on growing more childlike in depending on and trusting in God — no spotted animal PJs required.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children: Grace, Joseph, John and Abigail. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, an academic librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, have recently moved to the Fox Valley area to be closer to work and family. They attend Mass at St. Gabriel Church, Neenah, in the Green Bay Diocese.)