Our godson is adorable and also sensible. His birthday looms, so I asked him what he wanted to receive from us. His response: “toys.” When pressed, he said: “dinosaur toys.” I foolishly said: “So you want dinosaurs?” And he rolled his eyes and replied: “Not dinosaurs, that would be dangerous, just toys.” He also rejected all forms of socks as birthday presents.
Our conversation made me laugh, but I also sensed some wisdom in this four-year-old. While being childish is bad, child-likeness is good when it strips off the false grownup veneers we adopt in pride. These sly veneers are not genuine, but pretend virtues and feelings that we do not possess.
Christian adulthood, in contrast, retains the wisdom of a child while adding the wisdom of an adult. It keeps the best of childhood, and it is ready to learn from anyone. Even children!
What wisdom did I see in my godson?
The four-year-old knows what he wants and is willing to tell us. He did not ask us for what he thought he should want, or what he might get, or what marketing taught him to want. He knew his desires.
Now, adults know that not all our desires are good: we sometimes want what we should not. But as a result, we sometimes suppress the knowledge of our desires. We pretend we want socks when we really want dinosaur toys.
But if we want our desires to change, the change must begin by accepting reality: right now, we want what we want. We must acknowledge the truth, "I would like a new iPad," in order to examine it. The things that form my desires will not change unless I reflect on them as they are. "Will a new iPad be good for me?" is only a question we can ask when we are honest with ourselves about what we want.
But my godson's wisdom does not stop there. He also knew the difference between a toy and the reality it represents. Toys are not dinosaurs. We can play with toys, but playing with an actual dinosaur is dangerous.
Games, toys, entertainments are good. They rest the mind and the body. All adults should play! Anyone who pretends to hate play is only defending a veneer of adulthood. A childish adult, on the other hand, confuses his play with his work. He takes his play too seriously. While a game may be an image of life, it is not life.
War metaphors in football games deceive some into thinking gridiron heroes are real heroes. Instead, they are toy heroes.
A childish adult will sacrifice real work for hours of Candy Crush.
A pseudo-adult will never play games at all.
An authentic adult knows that his entertainments are little images of reality, sub-creations, not reality as God made it.
He will call his toys “toys” and enjoy them as toys! A true grownup enjoys entertainment, but does not live in the mythic world it creates: he vacations in it. True Christian adults know that all our “toys,” if taken too seriously, can become idols.
And God will destroy every idol.
What do I want? I want an iPad. Shall I buy one? No, I shan’t. Why? My desire is, for the moment, an immoderate one inflamed by covetousness. But, on the other hand, when I get to work's end tonight, I may spend some time playing Words with Friends with some friends.
It is just a game, and that is grand.