Those were the words my 17-year-old daughter blurted out one day, as she was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Coming from a girl who'd just gotten her driver's license – that crowning badge of honor for a teenager and sign of imminent adulthood – the remark brought me up short.
As I sat next to her on the bed that afternoon, noticing the stuffed animals lined up on the windowsill, I found myself agreeing with her. I didn't want her to grow up either!
After a moment of reflection, I asked, "Well, what does it mean to be young, anyway?" After thinking for a few minutes, we began to talk about the qualities most admired in children. Energy. And enthusiasm, vitality, activity – a zest for life. Along with that are humor, fun, and spontaneity. Kids love to laugh, create a new game, or tell goofy jokes. Joy is another major characteristic. It seems to flow freely without effort or outward cause.
I turned to my daughter. "You know, just because you have piled up more birthdays doesn't mean you have to lose any of these qualities," I said. "In fact, they should be increasing more and more."
And why not? Why should the mere passage of years affect one's ability to be childlike? Perhaps being truly childlike is not about physical stature, time, and inexperience. It's a deep spirituality that's often overlooked.
No one knew that better than Jesus. I said to my daughter, "Remember what Jesus said to some of his followers who were shooing children away from him, thinking they might annoy him?" He called one of them to the middle of the crowd and said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
Purity. Affection. Meekness. My daughter and I agreed these were the jewels of character that Jesus prized and that she reflected as God's child, then and forever. They were part of her spiritual inheritance from her heavenly Father-Mother God. None of these qualities could ever be lost, marred, or diminished in any way.
This discussion also got me thinking. Was I identifying the best I could with these childlike qualities? It takes alertness and consistency of effort, until it becomes a habit, the way a child without thinking breaks into a skip on the sidewalk. Like most adults, I surely seem bombarded by oh-so-many serious happenings and responsibilities. But I'm learning that life is not about searching for good, but about cultivating the humility to see good at hand, right in front of you. It's a childlikeness that's not shallow optimism but a rock-bottom conviction that God, divine Love, has many blessings in store for us each day. Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). It's within our reach, right now, whether we're 8 or 80.
So I said to my daughter, "Honey, don't worry. You go right on being childlike! I'll try to do that, too."
Later on, I remembered this passage written by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor: "Beloved children, the world has need of you, – and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives.... What grander ambition is there than to maintain in yourselves what Jesus loved, and to know that your example, more than words, makes morals for mankind!" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896," p. 110).
Next year, our daughter will be going away to college and my husband and I will be losing our "little girl." But not really. I felt helped by our discussion that afternoon. Now I can know, as her dad and I cheer her on from the sidelines, her childlike qualities will continue to grow and blossom.