On Saturday evening my six year old daughter Theresa ran shrieking down the stairs. I thought someone had gotten hurt and I rushed to her at once. There were no injuries but there was elation and a dangling baby tooth on the bottom of her gums — her first dangling baby tooth.
“It’s almost ready! It’s almost ready! “She cried excitedly. I had to agree. As she eagerly jumped up and down I hugged her and told her, “This could be it!” Then I steered her toward her father. He is the baby tooth expert, after all. Seven siblings before Theresa have climbed on Daddy’s lap to have their first loose teeth examined. And seven children so far have climbed off that same lap with one less tooth.
“Let me see,” said Daddy, Kleenex in hand, peering into Theresa’s mouth. “Aha!”
He pulled and out the tooth came. Theresa jumped joyfully around the room and then I took her to the bathroom to swish out her mouth. She was so excited that she nearly forgot to retrieve her tooth from Daddy before floating upstairs to share the news with her sister.
The next day at Mass I sat next to Theresa. She had been grinning since she found a crisp one dollar bill under her pillow earlier that morning. Now I watched as she took this same one dollar bill out of her tiny little patent leather church purse and placed it in the collection basket with no prompting at all. I bent down and whispered, “Honey, is that your tooth dollar?” (I knew it was. Six year olds don’t have access to many dollars.) “Yes!” she said proudly and beamed.
Jesus said, in Matthew 18:3, “[U]nless you… become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Small children have so many things to teach us if we just take the time to pay attention. Just look at what these little sages can help us learn.
Little children are naturally joyful. They are neither deceptive nor misleading. What they say is what they mean, and beauty and excitement shines through their eyes. Simple events like spotting a squirrel in the yard, finding a penny or losing a tooth makes them squeal with genuine happiness. Have you ever watched a toddler try a glass of fresh lemonade? He will likely get down at eye level and peer at it first. Then perhaps he will swirl it around in the glass, watching the sweet/sour liquid twirl. He may stick a finger in to taste. When he takes a full drink he will likely savor every drop and may even let out an “Ahhhhh!” and give a great big smile or chuckle.
Children see life as exciting and promising. Do we? When is the last time you were truly joyful about the beauty in your life? Wives, do you remember when your heart melted when a special young man merely looked your way and said, “Hello”? Do you know the one (albeit a bit older) sitting across the table from you at dinner would probably die for you if necessary? Have you thought about what a gift he is in your life? Husbands, do you realize your wife chose to forgo every other man for you? Do you value her as the treasure she is? A good father delights in giving good things to his children. God our Father delights in giving us good things too. Let’s show our gratitude and natural joy for His blessings.
Little children naturally trust their parents that their needs will be met. They don’t fret about the cost of meat or produce. They simply wait trustingly for each meal to appear on the table. When my daughter Theresa climbed up on her daddy’s knee to show him her loose tooth, she did so in complete confidence that he would care for her and handle the matter. We need to approach God with this same simple trust in all aspects of our lives, large and small.
Little children are naturally generous. They love to gather dandelions and present fistsful to those they love. They give smiles to everyone. If you comment on a cookie in their hands they just might hold it up for you to take a bite. When little Theresa lost her first tooth she offered her tooth money entirely to God. We need to have a similar attitude.
Joy. Trust. Generosity. Three child-like traits. What a milestone in the progression in holiness we would have if we could embody them. Following the example of small children we just might be able to stay ‘little in spirit’ forever.