February 21, 2014

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Be like children in the ‘big’ adult world

Sean GallagherThe hit movie Big, which explored moving from childhood to the adult world, came out in 1988 when I turned 18.

In it, 12-year-old Josh makes a wish that he was grown up, that he was “big.” He wakes up the next day to find that his wish has magically come true.

Tom Hanks played Josh living inside the body of a 30-year-old man. He learns that being big isn’t all he dreamed it would be. So he makes a wish to be a kid again. That wish, too, is granted.

I thought of that movie recently when my 11-year-old son, Michael, asked me, “Daddy, when you were young, did you wish that you were grown up?”

“I don’t recall wishing that when I was a kid. But I know there were times when I was young that I was frustrated with what I couldn’t do,” I responded.

“Well, I don’t want to be grown up. I like not having to worry about getting my meals ready or paying bills,” Michael replied.

I guess Michael wouldn’t have played a good Josh in Big.

But Michael showed maturity in that conversation. He saw the difference between his life and the demands of the life that his mother, Cindy, and I live in order to care for him and his brothers. And he was content with his life as it is.

Although he did not know it at the time, Michael also showed what it means to be a child in the kingdom of heaven.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus is asked by his disciples who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is. In reply, Jesus brings a child close to him and says, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:3-5).

The word “turn” used to describe Jesus’ disciples becoming like children suggests the movement of conversion. We are to turn from the direction in which we are headed and go a different way.

The way of adults is the way of self-sufficiency. The way of children is what Michael described. It acknowledges limitations and accepts dependence on care provided by others. It’s the way of humility: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4).

Jesus embraced this way when he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born as a helpless baby in Bethlehem. “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:5).

In our daily lives, we need to become like children. Somewhere along the line, we adults got too big for our britches. We embraced the foolish notion that we can gain the kingdom of heaven by our own efforts. We’re big. We can do it.

Jesus tells us that we can only receive the kingdom of heaven as a gift and never enter it apart from God’s grace.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that we can live like Michael is living now for the rest of our lives, with someone else preparing our meals and paying our bills.

When we approach our daily life like children of the kingdom of heaven, being in the “big” world with all of its duties and demands won’t be so crushing.

Instead of worrying about those duties and demands, we’ll be content like Michael is now, knowing that our heavenly Father will always take care of us, one way or the other, no matter what.

We may find his way of caring for us surprising or even not to our liking, but, with a childlike faith, we can trust that it will be for our best. †

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