A Child’s Effort

When I was younger, I used to play “little house on the prairie” in the clubhouse in my backyard.  We would pick mulberries from the bushes and scrape dry grass from the lawn and toss this “food” together in bowls we had swiped from the kitchen.  We would carefully store our “food” in small tunnels we dug in the sandbox because these burrows kept our “harvest” fresh in the “winter.” (Whenever my mom’s utensils were missing, she knew to check outside in the sand box.).  Our bikes were horses, stained blankets were beds, and a torn lawn chair was the dinner table. 

When I was a bit older, my friends and I would act out the scenes from our favorite books and film them.  I would spend hours scrupulously turning the latest Baby-Sitters Club story I had read into a script.  I would painstakingly transmit dialogue from the text to a piece of notebook paper in my story-binder, and I would make copies for all of my friends and highlight their corresponding parts.  When it came time to film, we would make our younger siblings play the roles of minor characters and we would scan the camera across a large blackboard to capture the “credits.”

The sheer effort we put into creating these imaginative worlds and performing these silly tasks was utterly irrational.  Our efforts surely bewildered our parents, just as I am bewildered by my own kids’ devotion to seemingly purposeless undertakings.  As adults, we stare into these fictional scenarios as outsiders, comfortable with our seats on the couch, nodding in amusement at our children, but utterly incapable of becoming participants in the dreamed-up reality they create before us.   

What prevents us from participating?  When was the last time I lost myself in the joy of cooking dinner the way I lost myself in the effort of collecting those mulberries and grass clippings?  When was the last time I created a lesson with the single-mindedness of the twelve-year-old girl who created movie scripts for her friends? When was the last time I lost myself in any sort of effort at all?  

I am fascinated by Jesus’ mysterious claim that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children.   Is it because kids can dream myths into reality?  But how?  When you’re a kid, there is purpose in everything—there is meaning to be found in tattered blankets and broken sticks, mulberries and grass clippings, in pens and pencils and notebook paper.  This meaning is an eternal type of meaning because it is not dependent on any sort of future accomplishment— we knew those berries wouldn’t literally sustain us and those scripts would never be read by anyone but ourselves.  But we were living eternally in those moments—living eternally precisely because we were living unconcerned with the future. 

So how do we live like eternal beings? Why did those childhood moments matter? (This is not a rhetorical question– comments are welcome because I’m not sure how to end this post.)

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4 Responses to A Child’s Effort

  1. vandemom2 says:

    Very interesting musings. I think part of our lost wonderment comes from being riddled with responsibility. Often we are so busy being responsible and thinking responsibly that we miss out on the joy of living in the moment, of being present in what we are currently doing. Somebody laughed at my ludicrously romantic description of one of my days last spring where I had reveled in the smell and feel of the crisp laundry that I had taken off of the clothesline. Am I sappy and emotional and dramatic? Yes, all of the above. Does it make mundane, routine chores more pleasurable? Absolutely. Sometimes I think of things that I would miss doing if for some reason I was no longer capable of doing them. Bedridden with illness or something. It makes those chores more meaningful and less dreadful. Some are still simply dreadful and I won’t romanticize them at all. 🙂 You might not be a part of their imaginary world, but you are wrapped up in it, you are noticing it, you are acknowledging that it has worth and importance and recognize that it is not a waste of time. That is valuable knowledge, to see that those childhood moments do matter.
    As you were meticulously writing your scripts, you were teaching yourself skills that you still use today. Skills of leadership, organization, creativity. Your skills are used differently now. To direct/co-direct a household of five beings and their interaction with the outside world. To write a blog which entertains and challenges many. To feed the minds of others like you. and to have the heart to wonder why. we can all choose wonderment, we can choose to notice the crispness of the linens, the fragrance of the wind…..we can stop to smell the roses…. or the garlic and onions sauteing on the stove. The contents of Cohen’s car’s trunk or Sophie’s pockets make me choke up. The wonderment of rocks, pine cones, acorns, locus pods…..such wonderment…..as Anne Frank said:
    Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl? (or young boy)

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  2. mrelder says:

    Perhaps they matter solely because they are a part of us. They are a piece of our narrative. I also like what NT Wright says about why we read scripture and I think it applies here as well, “We read scripture then to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.”

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  3. mrelder says:

    Perhaps they matter solely because they are a part of us. They are a piece of our narrative. Beyond that, I like what NT Wright says about why we read scripture, “to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.”

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  4. Jacob says:

    Buecher–When the disciples, overearnest as ever, asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus pulled a child out of the crowd and said the greatest in the kingdom of heaven were people like this (Matthew 18:1-4). Two thousand years of homiletic sentimentalizing to the contrary notwithstanding, Jesus was not being sentimental. He was saying that the people who get into heaven are people who, like children, don’t worry about it too much. They are people who, like children, live with their hands open more than with their fists clenched. They are people who, like children, are so relatively unburdened by preconceptions that if somebody says there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they are perfectly willing to go take a look for themselves.
    Children aren’t necessarily better than other people. Like the child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” they are just apt to be better at telling the difference between a phony and the real thing.

    ~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

    and

    “If you do something childish, do so in remembrance that you are a child.” – Buechner again.

    Maybe some of what you’re getting at is that our kids (and the kids Jesus is talking about, too) aren’t weighed down by the judgments of status that are put on our work. They are free to pursue what is important to them. As we grow in Christ, we slowly grow more in tune with his desires for the world. Dallas Willard says something to the same effect when he says its not that we need to change what we want, but that we will change ourselves and our desires will change accordingly.

    Now, with the maturity in christ and the childlike unconcern for how our work is perceived, what might we accomplish? Like you ask, what if we lived as eternal beings whose time here was just that–a time for a while here instead of there– and not our one chance to acquire and achieve all we can? What might we spend our time doing? Might we not worry about ourselves quite so much. Might we serve in warzones? Might we sell all and give it to the poor and join them? I don’t know. We have kids. We have other people to think about. Its a pretty good case for clerical celibacy, I guess. What can it look like to trust that we are covered? Some might call it risk. But, is it risk if you know you are ultimately fine? What confidence might that bring?

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