There are times when Scripture seems to contradict itself. On the one hand we read, Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (Mk 10;15). And yet elsewhere Scripture says, then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head (Eph 4:15).
However, the seeming contradiction flows more from the modern human tendency to absolutize certain teachings while forgetting that others also exist to balance and augment, than from a true contradiction. Sophistication is necessary in interpreting speech/writing, because everything cannot be communicated all at once.
Therefore, the above passages indicate that there are some qualities of children that ought to be emulated and others that should be avoided.
What are some qualities of children that should be strived for by the spiritually mature? Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. speaks to these qualities as he meditates on the teachings of St. Therese of Lisieux:
We find in a child as a rule, simplicity and consciousness of his weakness …. The simplicity, or absence of duplicity, of a child is wholly spontaneous, in him there is no labored refinement, no affectation. He generally says what he thinks and expresses what he desires without subterfuge, without fear of what people will say. As a rule, he does not pose; he shows himself as he is. Conscious of his weakness … he depends in everything on his father and mother, from whom he should receive everything (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Part Two, Tan Publications P. 433).
Clearly there are many qualities here that we should have, before God and also one another. For indeed as adults we posture; we wear masks; we are pretentious; and sometimes we’re just downright phony. Above all we are self-conscious, which is actually a paradoxical way of saying that we are obsessed with what others think of us. Full of pride, we refuse to acknowledge that we need God’s help in everything. Instead, we think that we only need His help in extreme situations; then we will pray.
Oh, for the simple and unpretentious qualities of children, who have not yet learned to be obsessed with what others think of them; who have not yet become cynical to the point of retreating into lies and posturing to navigate the convenient deceptions of men and ingratiate themselves to others!
The child of God should, first of all, be simple and upright, without duplicity; he should exclude hypocrisy and falsehood from his life, and not seek to pass for what he is not …. Our Lord says, “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.” That is, if the gaze of your spirit is honest, if your intention is upright, your whole life will be illuminated. The child of God should [also] preserve the consciousness of his weakness and indigence … (p. 435)
The idea of our “eye being single” is similar to being pure in heart. The concept is a kind of purity that is not admixed with all sorts of foreign materials. The pure heart is intent on one thing, not thousands of competing things. The simple eye is content to look to one thing, not every passing pleasure and distraction. One = pure = simple. Thus we are warned by the Lord that we cannot serve both Him and the mammon of this world; we cannot serve two masters. But as it is, we want too many things. We want to please too many people. We want to be in two kingdoms. Holiness, and the purity and simplicity it requires, cannot abide such duplicity. To some degree, children are more able to say, “Sum quod sum” (I am what I am). They are focused on pleasing their parents rather than myriad other people. And the very youngest children need only the basics: food, shelter, and intimacy.
Here are some final thoughts on spiritual childhood: Children are not perfect, but in their better moments they display important traits that we who would be spiritual ought to imitate.
Everything I need to know about being God’s child, I learned in infancy!