Little children want so much to navigate this big world in the same manner that adults do. Charisse Tierney hopes to be as joyfully receptive as they are.
“Wisdom is oft-times nearer when we stoop
Than when we soar.” (Wordsworth)
Last night my three-year-old daughter, Zelie, was struggling to settle down to eat her dinner. She was hungry, but her tears and complaining were getting in the way of her ability to recognize what she really needed.
You can’t force a child to eat. You can try to guide her in the right direction, to present appetizing choices for her, but, ultimately, she has to decide to do it for herself.
Instead of bargaining, bribing, or begging as I hurried about doing multiple other tasks, I stopped and stooped down to her level. I took her hand and started talking to her. Her eyes darted about until they finally rested on mine and we connected. I explained to her that she needed to eat and that I would warm up a hot dog for her that she could then help me cut into pieces.
She agreed to that, and I warmed up her hot dog, laid it on her child-sized kitchen hutch, and slowly showed her how to use her knife and fork to cut the hot dog into circles. She was instantly calm and captivated. She eagerly took the knife and fork from me and worked diligently until she had cut the entire hot dog up. Then she sat down and ate her meal, enjoying every bite.
Our youngest children have the capacity to concentrate, to learn new skills quickly, and to truly savor and enjoy their work. They only need the nudge of guidance to propel forward at astonishing rates.
And so it is with their prayer life. You can’t force a child to pray, but you can guide her in the right direction, present the seeds of our faith to her, and then watch as they spring up in the fertile soil of her young heart.
As our children are immersed in the world around them and the way we live in it, they want so much to do things for themselves. After Zelie had eaten her hot dog, she delightedly helped me sweep the floor and put a load of laundry in the dryer. As we worked together she said, “I like helping you. I like sweeping the floor.”
This age and attitude is the perfect time to capture their hearts for Jesus. They are ready to give themselves to Him -- we just have to nudge them a bit with some gentle guidance.
Our children are watching us live out our faith. They see all that we do as we attend Mass, read the Bible, pray the Rosary, and decorate our home with items that remind us of our heavenly goals. They may not know how to ask, but they want to do these things, too. Just taking a few moments to teach them the Sign of the Cross, or how to genuflect, or how to carefully extinguish the candles after a family Rosary is teaching them how to pray.
Maybe part of our children’s urgency to carry out tasks alongside us is not to do with their development, but rather ours. Maybe they are that small voice from God. Maybe they recognize they have an important message to convey to us and only a few short years to do so.
They teach us to slow down, to be more deliberate, and to concentrate, which leads us ever more deeply into contemplation and relationship with our Lord.
“Please let me do this with you so I can show you how to be still.”
“Please let me pray with you so I can show you how to receive God with joy.”
As I stooped down to Zelie’s level to talk to her about eating her dinner, I thought I was just doing so to get her to listen to me. It almost just felt like a parenting technique, until she met my gaze. And I realized I wasn’t stooping down to get her attention, I was stooping down so she could capture mine. The world through her eyes suddenly became clear to me. The kitchen cabinet next to us loomed large, and I couldn’t even see the counter top. I could hear my other kids across the room, but could no longer see exactly where they were.
Our littlest ones want so much to navigate this big world in the same manner that adults do. But I can only hope to be as joyfully receptive as they are.
And so I will continue to stoop down, especially as I lead them to pray, in hopes of becoming more like them.
Copyright 2020 Charisse Tierney
Image: Pixabay (2016)
About the Author
Charisse Tierney lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Rob and seven children. Charisse is a stay-at-home mom, musician, NFP teacher, and a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechist in training. She is also a contributing author to The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion and Family Foundations magazine. Charisse blogs at Paving the Path to Purity and can be found on Facebook.