Childish or childlike: Which one are you?
We all have someone in our lives who throws his or her weight around—figuratively speaking – to get their way. Perhaps it’s a coworker, family member, or even someone in our parish. Maybe it’s the person in front of you in the checkout line or the impatient driver on the highway next to you. It even could be you.
Willfully acting out to get what we want is a product of childishness and a consequence of original sin. We don’t mean to be childish; we can’t help ourselves. For some of us, childishness is a subtle emotion that we manage to keep to ourselves. For others, it erupts like a volcano, spreading its lava of disruption all around. Most of us probably land somewhere between the two. Regardless, we all have some degree of childishness in us. Childish people are prone to immaturity and don’t have full control over their actions and emotions. They lack poise and oftentimes purpose.
On the other hand, childlikeness is completely different. People who are childlike do have poise, purpose, and control—for the most part—over their actions and emotions. Childlike persons have hearts that are uncomplicated and wise, loving, and trusting in God. They feel safe and sheltered in God’s love. They have sound faith and confidence in both God and their own strength and abilities—which have been given to them by God—and live life peacefully without worry over the past or the future. They know that whatever happens at every moment was foreseen by the Father and will contribute to their formation and ultimate good. The only concern childlike people have is to discover what God wants from them at this moment.
The most perfect example of true childlikeness is the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was born without the effects of original sin and was thus filled with grace in an unparalleled way. Apart from Jesus, no soul was ever filled with grace as Mary’s was. Because of this, she had always the perfect use of reason and had the attitude of a child, exemplifying humility, confidence, and complete surrender to the will of the Father at all times and in all situations.
Mary was so secure in God’s love that, no matter what, she could and did repeat her unconditional yes to all that God asked of her. Indeed, Mary had poise, purpose, and control over her actions and emotions. Her heart was uncomplicated, wise, and loving and she trusted in God as Father beyond measure. Next to her son, there is no one who is as childlike as Mary.
Think of all the situations she faced in her lifetime, many of which were either perplexing or excruciatingly painful. At the Annunciation, she was confused by the angel’s request, yet she agreed to become the Mother of God even when she didn’t fully understand how that would happen. At the Nativity, she gave birth to Jesus in gentle surrender to God’s will. At the Presentation, she heard the difficult prophecy of Simeon without rebuttal. During our Lord’s public ministry, she followed along closely enough to be near him but not so close as to interfere with his mission.
Throughout Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion, she kept silent, accepting it all because she knew it had been ordained by God. She waited three days for the Resurrection, 40 days for the Ascension, and nine more days in the Upper Room in loving trust and obedience to the Father. In all things, at all times, Mary was the perfect child of the Father. She never doubted his wisdom, ways, or purpose. Her only concern was to do exactly what he asked of her in the moment.
Mary is our model of childlikeness. True, we weren’t born without the effects of original sin and don’t have the perfect use of reason as she did and still does. But we do have recourse to her graces and intercession, both of which she gives freely. We can—and should—ask her for the graces to become more and more childlike and less childish each day.