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.

Photo by Alex Grodkiewicz on Unsplash

Text First Published May 2023 · Last Featured on February 2023