Goodbye Childhood

sofiaMy mom wrote a letter to me two days after I left home for the first time to go to college. In it, she tells me she hasn’t been able to stop crying. She asks me if I remember my first day in kindergarten. She remembers how different my sister and I were on our first days: Stacey was over the moon during the ride there, but as soon as the car stopped in front of the school, Stacey clung to her, and refused to let go. As for me, she says I threw a fit on the morning of my first day, because I didn’t want to get out of bed, but once we got to the school, I was surprisingly brave.

She says we were also so different when we left for college. During their last day together, Stacey hid in the bathroom of the Chinese restaurant they we eating in for a long time, so she could cry by herself. When Stacey came back, she pretended not to notice how red her eyes were. As for me, she says I slept soundly beside her the night before our last day, but that when I woke up in the morning, I broke down and cried my eyes out. She says that broke her heart.

She talks about the grace of God over and over in the letter, about how sure she is that God loves our family, and how grateful she is that God gave her a husband, two daughters, and the world’s worst-behaved dog. I’ve read this letter over and over, each time straining my eyes to understand my mom’s barely legible handwriting.

Time flies, doesn’t it? I remember dreading naptimes in kindergarten, because I could only fall asleep on days when it rained. I remember looking at the sixth grade girls when I was in fourth grade, longing for the day when I would be grown up like them. I remember for weeks after I got into Columbia, I spent every spare moment looking over my acceptance letter to make sure I didn’t somehow misunderstand what it was saying.

There is a scene in C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, when Aslan, the mighty lion that represents God, finally returns to Lucy after a long separation. 1 Lucy says to him, “Aslan, you are bigger.” Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one.” He then tells her, “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” As Lucy grows, she gains the ability to comprehend a greater God.

It’s true. In each phase in my life, I’ve only been able to understand God through the limited knowledge I had at that point in time. As a child, I only knew love as a transient feeling, so I thought of God as an abstract being with warm and fuzzy feelings for us. As a teenager, I thought love was something you earned by being sweet and deferential, so I would push God away whenever I knew I fell short of that. It is only now that I begin to understand that love is a gift by grace, and not a reward for being good. God loves me, because I’m his child. “Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.” 2 For that reason alone, even in moments of trouble, persecution, hunger, destitution, danger, and even on the brink of death, God will meet me where I am. 3

God hasn’t changed. From the beginning to the final amen, God is the same today as He always was. But to me, the gospel is news that gets better and better as I grow older, just as Lucy thinks Aslan has gotten bigger. The harder I fall, the more I realize I need Him. When I stop getting stuck on the past, saying, “At least then, I had…”, and realize those things were exactly what was chaining me down, I finally learn to face God with my imperfections. I finally learn to come to him when the bad choices I make catch up with me, and let Him fix me. Let Him gently help me work out what went wrong, and show me that only He can satisfy the hungers of my heart. I finally realize that this is who He is.

One of the things God has taught me is that He will turn scars into gifts if I am patient. Every injury I’ve sustained will become a way for me to connect with people I would never otherwise be able to connect with; I will be united with other people by the scars we share. Each time I am hurt has taught me to be gentler to other people–maybe that’s why I want to be a teacher of children. Children need so much gentility, because they’re so easily hurt. When they do something wrong, often what they need is not a knee-jerk rebuke, but for someone to pause and listen to them pour out the contents of their hearts.

I remember working with two-year-old Kailey, 4 who slapped me across the face when I told her it’s wrong to throw her toys on the floor. She didn’t know how to communicate her anger using words yet, but her feelings were so intense, she felt she had to let me know in the only way she knew how. I see so much of myself in her, and understand that God has used my past to teach me how to love her.

I remember having fifteen-year-old Corey 5 in my class, who told me the thing he wants most in life is an iPhone. I couldn’t afford a real one, so I made one for him out of cardboard and colored paper, and he liked it. I see myself in him, too, the part of me that sets my heart on things that have no real value. But God often humors my silly requests with assurances of love and understanding.

I turned twenty-one last week, which I’m told is a turning point in life. There are things I’m going to have to do in the next few years of my life that will be hard. There will be choices I have make, and I’m going to make mistakes. But no matter how many years have passed, I will always be small enough for God to take in His arms like a child. There is comfort in that. There is safety in that. “There is no fear in love.” 6

Notes:

  1. Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. p. 148.
  2. Galatians 4:7 NLT.
  3. Romans 8:35 NLT.
  4. Name changed for anonymity.
  5. Name also changed for anonymity.
  6. 1 John 4:18 NIV.