Childlike ≠ Childish

This is my Father’s world …

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In the on-line video series What Lives Inside (four episodes, 10 to 12 minutes each) Colin Hanks plays Taylor Delaney, the son of beloved puppeteer Pops Delaney whose creations and television show have delighted generations of children. The first episode starts with the news of Pops’ passing, then pans to Taylor in his corporate office receiving condolences from co-workers:

Taylor and his long-time friend drive to Taylor’s mother’s home, and the friend tries to talk about Pops and what Taylor must be feeling. Taylor’s having none of it. It’s clear that son and father were not on the best of terms, and Taylor comes across as a petulant and resentful child who had to watch the world love his father while not getting the love he felt entitled to as the man’s own flesh and blood.

Taylor’s perceptions do not necessarily reflect reality.

Through fantasy and reality mixing together, Taylor discovers much about his relationship with his father and about himself. The creations Pops gave the world come to life for Taylor, guiding him and confronting him and showing him what his real world is like because of the fantasy world his father created. Yet their world is being destroyed by one of those very creations, presumably because Pops is no longer alive to sustain them. Taylor takes on a quest he doesn’t fully understand, and it’s all about saving this world by finding “the boy”.

Chester – a huge, furry, playful, thoughtful creature – helps Taylor for a bit, and then has to move on to help others. As he leaves he says, “If you do see the boy, can you tell him I miss him?” Chester’s question leads us to realize something about this mysterious boy that Taylor does not yet suspect. In the last episode, Taylor comes across a child drawing pictures and calling out to his father to come see what he’s made.

Taylor sees the child’s face and says, “It’s me.”

Taylor – a grown man with a career of his own – acted childishly,  and it was only by confronting himself as a child that he could grow up and learn what it means to be childlike instead.

What does he do with this realization? You’ll have to watch the videos.

Childish ≠ Childlike

The Bible tells us not to be childish. The most familiar passage is this one on maturity:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11.)

You can read the Bible from cover to cover and find repeated instances where you want to tell one of the characters, “Oh, grow up!” (King Saul comes to mind.) And there is a lot of advice on behaving responsibly as well. (Try the Book of Proverbs on for size.)

But we are also urged to embrace the attributes of a child, starting with birth:

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3.)

and continuing through toddlerhood:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” (Matthew 11:25-26.)

Jesus made it clear that we are to exercise our faith in a childlike way:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16.)

Jesus was indignant at those who thought they were acting so grown up, and blessed the children as the model of what real faith looks like. In fact, God prizes the praise of his children:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16.)

This time it was the ones who thought themselves most mature who were indignant, and Jesus again pointed out it was the children who were actually behaving properly.

If you belong to Jesus, you are a child of God. Do you act as a child with God? Have you said “It’s me”, as Taylor did in the world his father created?

This is your Father’s world.

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11 Responses to Childlike ≠ Childish

  1. Childlike faith is something that has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It’s an idea that I feel like I can get my mind around some times, but other times I’m just not sure what it all entails. I like your contrast of childlike and childish, it is a helpful distinction.

    I’ve tried writing about childlike faith before in thinking about what it means and looks like for our lives. I’m not sure how good it is, but if anyone is interested, it’s here http://anintermediatefaith.com/?p=2322.

    • Tim says:

      It’s an elusive concept for me too. Like you, sometimes I think I get it and other times I am still scratching my head at what it entails.

      And thanks for the link. Your take on how to navigate the adult life with a childlike faith is excellent.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for referencing this video series, Tim: it looks really interesting!

    As Jeremy has said above, I also sometimes find it hard to distinguish between what’s childlike and what’s childish — but one example comes to mind. There is a young guy at church (university age) who plays on our worship music team. Another team member and I were talking about how endearing this guy is and I said he reminded me of Jesus’ describing Nathaniel as someone “in whom there is no guile” — as the KJV puts it. The NIV says “no deceit,” but there’s something about the KJV version that sounds just right: this guy is straight-up, what you see is what you get, doesn’t try to be better or worse than he is. To me, that’s part of what it means to be childlike. Ironically, adults are usually the ones who try to fake it, take themselves way too seriously, and end up appearing childISH.

    • Tim says:

      That guilelessness really is a good attribute for childlike faith, Jeannie.

      And I hope you like the videos. It is a whimsical and touching story with great acting and production values.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    Interesting splitting of the hairs. I know not if I would gone into this topic, but itwas handled with skill and ability.
    Might we not equate childlike with simple (not neccessarly simplistic)?
    Childish is more akin to immature….

    Thanks!!

  4. Ruth says:

    I think this hits the spot with Hillsongs up-coming conference in Sydney. Mark Driscoll was invited by the heirachy to share his experiences, then after much disagreement from many, both Christian and secular, he has been uninvited. The newspapers quoted some of his most offensive comments about women, amongst other things, and there was a groundswell against his misogynistic attitudes. From childish to child- like, sort of, maybe not exactly as has been discussed, but certainly a better move as Hillsongs’ majority of interested parties objected. Australia hasn’t missed much in not giving him another forum to talk his way under the truth of his actions I think.

    • Tim says:

      I think you’re right that pastors are the ones who we look to for modeling a childlike faith. I wonder if that is something pastors talk about at conferences too?

      ________________________________

  5. Mrs. Tovar says:

    Just found this, Tim. Slightly off topic, maybe, but as a child I was punished for being childish and I observed many other children being punished for being childish. I personally don’t agree with that at all. I do not think 1 Cor 13 and other scriptures are condemning childish behavior at all; it’s just simply an acknowledgment that when we are children we think, act and talk like children but with time there comes a maturing process where we put away childish things and act like adults; in the same way that we now see things as in a glass, darkly, but someday clearly and we will know as we are known; no condemnation implied for our present lack of understanding. I do not punish my little boy for being childish, but I do try to provide teaching and nurture that will help him mature. Anyway I enjoyed reading your article, it was thought provoking.

    • Tim says:

      You’ve described the way I see children as well, Mrs. T. Why criticize a child for acting their age? And as they grow up, we are to help them grow into maturity. It’s a blessing to be a child and to remember those blessings as we grow older.

  6. Pingback: The day of The Minions – Childish vs Childlike | thatstorygirl

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