Several years ago my wife and I were leading worship for a week of camp at Lakeshore’s Family Camp in Cobourg, Ontario. My oldest daughter, Soleil, was four or five at the time. She was still waking up early in those days and the two of us would head over to the cafeteria for an early breakfast. One of those mornings we decided to go for a walk near the lake and eventually found a park bench to sit on and watch the water. After sitting there for a while Soleil asked, “Are those fairies?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She pointed left, towards the water, and said “Over there. Are those fairies?” I still didn’t have a clue but continued to look. Finally I saw it. It was the sun reflecting on the moving water. It was beautiful and–I don’t know a manly way to say this–it totally looked like little flying fairies. I saw sun and water. She saw fairies.
As I later thought back about that morning I was reminded of some writings of G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton reflected that while ‘nature’ often repeated itself, it was far from boring. In his book “Orthodoxy” he wrote: “The repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition…The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood.”
Some people see wind and grass while others, like Chesterton, see fingers signaling to them. Once when my son was sick, he insisted that my wife carry him to sit with her on the back porch. He was drawn by the trees. We have a lot of large trees in our backyard that sway like wild men when the wind picks up. The sound of the leaves rustling is mesmerizing. But while out there he talked about the trees ‘waving their arms.’ Maybe he was right. The great prophet Isaiah wrote about the mountains and hills bursting into song, and about the trees clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12).
So what keeps us from seeing the world the way our kids see it? Chesterton says it’s monotony. More specifically, it’s our view of monotony. We tire of the “same old, same old.” We thrive on what’s novel and new. As we all know by now, anytime we acquire something new it’s already old and disappointing. We’ve been trained to find monotony draining. But children haven’t submitted to this training yet.
“Because children have abounding vitality,” writes Chesterton, “because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.”
What if we’ve stopped really looking at the beauty around us and have lost the mystery of creation because we’re always looking for something novel? Chesterton would asks, what if things repeat themselves because they want to? Because God wants them to? “It may be that He [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.”
I’ve never forgotten Chesterton’s idea about our sin causing us to becoming older than our Father. I can think of at least two things that all of this can teach us about parenting. First, it is obviously part of our job as parents is to help our children grow up. But I think we are supposed to help them grow up in a specific way. We should guide them as they acquire skills to navigate through the world and make hard choices. The Apostle Paul talks about the importance of “putting away childish things” (I Corinthians 13:11). But these words of Paul need to be heard along side Jesus’ words which tell us that unless we become like “a little child” we will “never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). We must help our children grow up, but must be careful that we don’t train them to grow up in such a way as to grow older than our Father. I think this is possible. I was moved upon reading about how one of my favourite Jewish scholars, Abraham Heschel, upon entering the woods would always put on his dark hat. One of his friends, Shlomo Beillis, asked him why he always wore this hat in the forest. He responded, “‘I don’t know if you will understand. To me a forest is a holy place, and a Jew does not enter a holy place without covering his head!’”. Herschel was a great thinker, but he retained his childlike wonder. In fact, the book I just quoted from is titled “Abraham Joshua Hescel, Philosopher of Wonder” (by Maurice S. Friedman). Perhaps the words ‘philosopher’ and ‘wonder’ can, in fact, be set side-by-side, just like Jesus’ and Paul’s words. Isn’t this what we should be after for our children? To see them grow, become wise, and yet keep the wonder?
The second thing that this can perhaps teach us is that there is beauty in the monotony of parenting. I confess that I can far too often become older than my Father in this regard. But I don’t want to. I want to catch the beauty in the everyday things that my children do that I will one day, far too soon, miss. Let’s not become too old to say to our children, “Do it again! Do it again! Do it again!”