One of my sons has told me repeatedly that I’m a five-year-old in a middle-ager’s body.

I take that as a compliment.

Why? Because I know he’s referring to my playfulness and, admittedly, ridiculous sense of humor. But what gives me that ridiculous sense of humor is the God-given gift of being childlike. That’s very different from being childish (although I do act childish on occasion – everyone does).

People who are childish are immature, demand their own way, have little or no self-control, can only see things from their own selfish or overly-defensive perspective, and lack rational judgment. We all have childish people in our lives and, I hope, can sense when we ourselves are being childish and alter our behavior.

People who are childlike are mature yet uncomplicated, able to exercise self-control, compromise and find reasonable solutions, consider the other’s point of view, and are capable of rational judgment and responsible decisions.

Spiritually speaking, childish people make demands on God, are convinced they know better than he does, and consistently rebel against his will.

Childlike people see God as Father, are willing to follow his will, and trust in his wisdom. They realize their “smallness” before God and have an uncomplicated faith in him.

That said, I far more prefer to be childlike than childish and take no offense at being chided for being a five-year-old in a middle-ager’s body. At least then I know I’m striving in the right direction.

Our Lord spoke strongly about being childlike, even going so far as to tell his followers that, without it, we won’t make it to heaven.

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘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: 1-5)

True, Jesus is speaking about actual children in this passage, but he also is pointing to their qualities as an example for adults. “…unless you turn and become like children,” he said. Unless we become childlike, we will not pass through heaven’s gate.

Our Lord is asking us to have the uncomplicated, unpretentious, comprehensive, faith of a child.

Childish people are prone to anxiety, and anxiety can lead to all sorts of dangers. There’s an intriguing quote in a book I’ve been reading. The book is a compilation of talks given by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, Servant of God and founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt.

“Anxiety is, above all, a symptom of our present age. Therefore, it is a typical inner experience of modern man. We all know about it either from our own experience or from others. We are living in a period of tremendous spiritual-intellectual earthquakes. The social order we were accustomed to is threatened. Whatever had a firm and definite form yesterday threatens to vanish into nothingness tomorrow. We do not know what the future holds for us. We are absolutely uncertain about the present and the future. Insecurity and anxiety prevail wherever we go.” (excerpt from God My Father by Joseph Kentenich).

Interesting that Fr. Kentenich spoke those words in the 1960s. How much truer they are today!

The remedy, if you will, is childlikeness and childlikeness is a gift of the Holy Spirit, per Fr. Kentenich.  A truly childlike person isn’t shaken by what’s going on around him; he is secure in the Father’s love and has total trust in his wisdom. The child, in his simple, loving manner, is content to let the Father lead him no matter what that entails.

Childlikeness isn’t something we can acquire on our own. It’s a grace we must ask for, and one that the Father is most willing to give us.