Introductory Note:

What might Jesus have meant when he said “You must become like little children…”? 

In her forthcoming book, Faith Like a Child, Lacy Borgo calls us to observe the ways children act and move and think, and shares her hypotheses about which ways of childhood serve as guideposts to a flourishing life with God. In the excerpt below, Lacy observes that a child who has a healthy attachment to her parent will continually “check in” with the parent while they play and go about their day. 

While playing, my kids would raise their heads and move to a place where they could see me and be seen. If they couldn’t catch my eye and connect with a glance, they would stop whatever they were doing and come to me. Not really to ask for anything, but to be present—not more than a moment—for a touch, a hug, a hello for connection. Then they were back to playing, the good work of being a child. …The glance back, the pause, or the touchstone is to remind us of who we are; it is to remind us of the reality of being a beloved one safe in the arms of one who loves us.

What a beautiful paradigm to carry over into our life with God! 

And how might we strengthen our ability to connect with our Divine Parent throughout the day? It helps to develop a “sacramental” understanding of all that is available to connect us to invisible realities— sacraments, both formal and informal, that refresh our memory of God’s nearness, and the many beautiful ways we can express our love to God through posture, movement, voice, meaningful rituals and spontaneous praise, and, of course, tangible expressions of love to others, as if to Jesus. My own understanding of how this works continues to grow thanks to wisdom stewarded by the Incarnational Stream of Christian tradition, highlighted by Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water

Lacy Borgo’s book Faith Like a Child is available for preorder now and releases in May 2023.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager
February 2023

For cen­turies, the peo­ple of God have been prac­tic­ing being awake. We catch a glimpse of this prac­tice in the life of Daniel. You might remem­ber Daniel and the lion’s den from child­hood Bible sto­ries. His friends had a brush with dan­ger too; the three of them were thrown into a fur­nace for the swift ego kick they gave King Neb­uchad­nez­zar by refus­ing to bow to a gold­en idol. 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed­nego were all sen­tenced to a fiery death, when God, the hid­den one, became less hid­den, and pro­tect­ed them. Daniel, how­ev­er, had a wee gift of under­stand­ing dreams. It seems God gives this gift to his peo­ple when they are out­num­bered, over­whelmed, and in a tight spot. Daniel found him­self in a place of pow­er in a land that didn’t fol­low the God he freely knew in his child­hood. His God had accom­pa­nied him in good and bad, through betray­al and trau­ma, through pro­mo­tion and prison. Now, Daniel want­ed to keep com­pa­ny with God no mat­ter where life took him, no mat­ter what sit­u­a­tions and glob­al cat­a­stro­phes were present. In verse ten of Daniel chap­ter six, we get one tiny glimpse of how he did that. Although Daniel knew the doc­u­ment had been signed, (the doc­u­ment sup­port­ing the com­pul­sive ego tend­ing of the king), he con­tin­ued to go to his house, which had win­dows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done pre­vi­ous­ly. (Daniel 6:10)

Three times a day, Daniel turned his whole self, body includ­ed toward God. Three times a day, he remind­ed him­self to wake up. Sur­round­ed by hos­tile com­mu­ni­ty, with feel­ings of war­rant­ed fear, Daniel paused and let God remind him of the real­i­ty of things. 

Chil­dren car­ry Daniel’s wis­dom with them. When my kids were lit­tle, going to the park was a treat. Once a week, I met with a group of women for prayer and study; those of us who were home­school­ing schlepped our chil­dren along too. The kids met new peo­ple and played quite hap­pi­ly with­out adult inter­ven­tion. This park was suit­ably equipped with a steep met­al slide that brought just the right amount of dan­ger. Either you fell from the unrailed land­ing after sum­mit­ing ten feet of nar­row steps, or you blis­tered your bare legs on the red-hot grid­dle of a slide made hot by the high-alti­tude sun. If that wasn’t enough per­il, a few spins on the mer­ry-go round helped you retaste your lunch. The mon­key bars weren’t men­ac­ing until anoth­er kid decid­ed to chal­lenge the abil­i­ty to hang on for dear life with defend­ing the right to take up space. Not one child lost an eye, but bruised bod­ies and rum­pled feel­ings some­times occurred. Still, this was adven­tur­ous liv­ing for young children. 

One after­noon, while we adults gath­ered dis­cussing the mer­its of par­ent­ing as mild per­se­cu­tion (a test­ing of our faith that might cost us every­thing), I noticed some­thing. While the chil­dren were on the play­ground, they would occa­sion­al­ly stop and look for their par­ents. While play­ing, my kids would raise their heads and move to a place where they could see me and be seen. If they couldn’t catch my eye and con­nect with a glance, they would stop what­ev­er they were doing and come to me. Not real­ly to ask for any­thing, but to be present — not more than a moment — for a touch, a hug, a hel­lo for con­nec­tion. Then they were back to play­ing, the good work of being a child. 

Much lat­er, I learned that this behav­ior was what secure attach­ment looked like. When we are secure­ly attached, we have free­dom to go and do what is ours to do. We can be who we are with free­dom and light. We can explore and test. The glance back, the pause, or the touch­stone is to remind us of who we are; it is to remind us of the real­i­ty of being a beloved one safe in the arms of one who loves us. 

Chil­dren prac­tice this pause and we adults do it too, espe­cial­ly with God. We are born with a secure attach­ment to God. Our expec­ta­tions of safe­ty and care are alive and well. As we grow up, we need an ongo­ing con­nec­tion with God, even as we do the work that we are called to do, whether we are par­ents or plumbers or both. 

Adults can for­get our ongo­ing need; we can start to buy into the illu­sion that we are in this alone, that the wounds and wan­der­ings of our liv­ing go unseen and with­out care. This way of liv­ing is not real­ly liv­ing. It is painful, and we will do what­ev­er we can to get some relief from the pain. We nur­ture false attach­ments that can nev­er take the place of a true attach­ment to God, our divine par­ent. These false attach­ments are in them­selves good gifts giv­en to us for enjoy­ment. But we become depen­dent, ask­ing them to do to what they can­not. We look to peo­ple, posi­tions, pos­ses­sions, and potions of all kinds. These can­not give us what we most deeply desire, but they can lull us to sleep. They can, for a short peri­od of time, move us into a state of not feel­ing our pain. 

We can be lulled to a kind of zom­bie sleep by the demands sur­round­ing us. Work, fam­i­ly, church, respon­si­bil­i­ties, even good social jus­tice work — these can be tasks we do, not because they flow out of our liv­ing and lov­ing with God, but because we are run­ning from our pain. In essence, these false attach­ments trick us into think­ing that we are awake to real­i­ty when we are actu­al­ly asleep. 

Daniel’s three-times-a-day glance back at God kept him awake and con­nect­ed. Three times a day he stopped and, like an adult child con­nect­ing to his God, his divine par­ent, he touched their con­nec­tion. He drank in divine love and real­i­ty. And we all know what hap­pens next. Daniel went through a ter­ri­ble tri­al where his very life was in dan­ger. While being hurled into a lion’s den may not be a com­mon occur­rence for West­ern human beings, still, liv­ing is inher­ent­ly dan­ger­ous. Our finite human bod­ies get sick and die. Trau­ma and tragedy are all around us. We must, if we are to stay awake, keep our fin­ger on the real­i­ty that we have a Divine Par­ent who is with us through it all. 

The first men­tion of the name Emmanuel is in Isa­iah 7:14, where it rep­re­sents a sign­post for a present and future hope that indeed, God was and is with the peo­ple. To be sure that we under­stand, Matthew quotes Isa­iah and then opens it up a bit more direct­ly: “‘And they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23). I sup­pose God could have named him­self God fix­es us,” or God judges us.” Or God mocks us.” Or even God puts up with us.” But then, what is it about God that pro­pels our divine par­ent to breach heav­en and earth and (if you ask our East­ern Ortho­dox sis­ters and broth­ers) kick in the gates of hell to be with us? Oh, yeah, love. This is what love looks like. God chose to be Emmanuel. God is with us from a place of love. God is not repelled by human beings but drawn to us: love looks like that. Being with God is the most awake a human being can be.

Tak­en from Faith Like a Child by Lacy Finn Bor­go. Copy­right © 2023 by Lacy Finn Bor­go. Used by per­mis­sion of Inter­Var­si­ty Press. www​.ivpress​.com

Pho­to by Alex Grod­kiewicz on Unsplash

Text First Published May 2023 · Last Featured on February 2023

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