We have one child left that still, when confronted by the sight of a raised stone fence alongside a sidewalk or a stretch of landscape timbers along the edge of a garden, uninhibitedly leaps up and balances her way forward with awkward glee next to whatever adult she happens to be with. Seeing in our children the requisite transition from giddy freedom to self-conscious wariness has always been a “death” for me, something I have to grieve as I have such a love for the carefree joys of childhood play.
Never too old to play
That thought reminds me of a story. I knew a priest (I’ve known many, as you see!) who, then in his 70s, had a very childlike heart that cherished the joy of play. He had also suffered immensely in his life, which had, in his case, miraculously intensified, and not crushed, his breezy and ebullient spirit. If I had to guess the reason for the miracle, I’d have to say it was his intense intimacy with Jesus.
Once when he and I were sharing thoughts on theology, he said to me,
I really believe that as we get older, and our bodies begin to fragment and crack and disassemble, our spirit is given a grace by God – if we see it and embrace it! – to begin wresting free from the somber bonds of a world grown tired in sin. Old age is Christ pulling us into the future Kingdom already now, pulling with the force of a woman in labor, or pulling like a child violently tugging a friend’s arm, unable to wait any longer to play in the new Creation.
That’s what I want to think like when I’m in my 70s.
I want to want to play thus with divine Wisdom, who spoke these whimsical words of his Father,
I was beside him as his master craftsman; I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, Playing over the whole of his earth, and my delight was in being with the sons of men. — Proverbs 8:30-31
I’ll give G.K. Chesterton the last word here, as he also “got” my priest-friend’s point,
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.