What Children Can Teach Us

Children are at the heart of Christmas. The tree, the exchange of gifts, and all the excitement of the season are more joyful when they involve youngsters. In a more important sense, Christmas brings us the person of the infant Jesus, who among other things reminds us of the simplicity, the hope, the exuberance, the confidence in the future that are so much a part of the make-up of every youngster.

Some of the clearest expressions of the Christian commitment come from children and there is a lot we could learn from them. Playing with these little ones, talking to them, even just watching them, children can teach us many things, including re-teaching us some of the things that we adults forgot as we grew up.

From the very start, holding a young baby in our arms, just as when we behold the infant Jesus lying in the manger, our hearts are touched with love and affection. We learn to give of ourselves to them, to care for them and protect them. In their utter dependence on mom and dad and others, children also offer us a lesson in the beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reminding us of our need to humbly admit our own dependence on our heavenly Father.

Once during a school visit, a young student gave me a package of candy that had been used in class to teach math. As I thanked him, the budding young mathematician looked at me and replied, “You’re supposed to share!” If only more grown-ups learned this lesson with respect to sharing God’s bounty in our common home.

Jesus was asked during his ministry, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” His answer was to call a child over and say, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5).

Many of the saints have understood the lesson of childhood. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus famously pursued the life of a simple soul, a child in the hands of God. This was her “little way,” which recognized that one becomes rich in life and blessed in the next not by acquiring power or by putting oneself first, but by being like a child, poor in spirit and entrusting oneself to God and his grace.

Imagine if this little way – the way that we learn from children – were to permeate the professions of law, medicine, education and the sciences, as well as the great technologies, culture, art and the daily lives of those involved in the trades, building, commerce and industry. The world would be transformed.