Like a child
“Still nothing can change us as permanently as a child can,” Bruna Estrela tells us in her viral online article about children and the lessons we adults can learn from them.
Further in the article, she says that “a child can make your faith in God stronger and bring you down on your knees to pray. Your child (or grandchild) can teach you about faith and gratitude as no priest, pastor or religious leader ever could.”
A few years ago, my granddaughter Maddie taught me a lesson I will never forget. She was only 6 months old when she stayed with us for a whole week in our Quezon City house while her parents, my daughter Dana and her husband Marco, went for a vacation in Japan.
For a week, my wife Thelma and our two other daughters Pizza and Danie took turns in tending to her — feeding, bathing and dressing her, and putting her to sleep.
I occasionally pitched in and watched over her while she was asleep, or carried her around when, waking, she would extend her arms, wanting to be cuddled.
That image of Maddie extending her arms to me lingered, until I realized its significance — how powerless and helpless she could be and how dependent she was as a child.
And I recalled what the Oblate spiritual writer, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, had said about the meaning of Christ’s command for us to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God.
In his website ronrolheiser.com, he wrote: “The quality of heart, seen in a child, that Jesus most challenges us to imitate is that of acknowledging powerlessness and helplessness. A child is powerless. It cannot provide for itself, feed itself, or take care of itself. For a child, if mum and dad do not get up and make breakfast, there will be no breakfast! A child knows dependence, knows that life comes from beyond itself, that it is not self-providing and self-sufficient.”
It dawned on me that even then, Maddie was teaching me to become like her, a powerless and dependent child, in my own relationship with God.
Today, I realize that as we grow older and become self-sufficient, able to do things for ourselves, and powerful, we also tend to forget this lesson from a child—sometimes even to the extent that we no longer feel the need for divine assistance.
But God has another way of bringing us back to a state of being dependent and helpless.
As we enter our twilight years, we notice a strange happening in our lives. We start to experience the phenomenon of role reversal between us and our children. We exchange roles, as it were. We become helpless and dependent upon them who used to be helpless and dependent upon us. The children we used to take care of are now taking care of us.
Today, my eldest daughter Pizza, whom I used to drive to school, drives me to the mall, to the grocery, and to my appointments with my doctor.
Whenever I am clueless as to what on earth is happening to my computer or phone, I consult my other children Nico and Dana, who used to depend on me to fix their broken toys.
And yes, Danie, my youngest daughter, now a physician, nags me lest I forget my medicines and vitamins — a reversal of how I used to bug her to eat her veggies and drink her milk when she was growing up.
I have accepted this role reversal in my life even as I resisted it initially. I know it is God’s way of telling me to follow His counsel to “become like a child”—powerless, helpless, and dependent—in order for me to enter His kingdom.
I pray that when my time comes to leave this world, I will extend my arms to the Father and ask Him to lead me on to the next life. Because I am powerless, helpless, and dependent. Like a child.
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Danilo G. Mendiola, 76, is retired from corporate work and considers writing as therapy. He has four children and four grandchildren.
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