The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.
Becoming Like Little Children
By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC
The first time I ever held a Bible in my hand, I was eight years old. My father was helping me to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon by cleaning out the large walk-in closet in my bedroom. I remember spotting the unfamiliar dark green, leather bound book with gold-edged pages, and how light the feather-weight pages felt in my fingers as I flipped through each delicate one. Who knows how that Bible came to be in the bottom of my closet? I know that I had never seen it before and to be honest, I had no idea what it was. My father gave me a brief explanation of the book and it must have intrigued me for I promptly sat down on the floor and began to read, “In the beginning God created . . . .” I don’t know how far I read that day—probably not very far at age eight—but clearly the experience left an indelible mark in my memory file since I often recall it when I trace the arc of my spiritual journey.
Over the next two decades, I danced around God—attending church in fits and spurts and reading Scripture sporadically. I had many questions but was too self-absorbed to really seek any answers. Becoming a parent changed all of that for me.
The birth of my daughter was in many ways miraculous. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged that there was a God and that he was gracious and merciful and loving—and had inexplicably entrusted this tiny baby to my care. From the very core of my being arose a feeling of love and protectiveness for her that I had not thought possible. But there was something else there too—a feeling that had been lying dormant for far too long. I had a deep longing to know this God and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted my child to know Him too. The only problem was that He was a stranger to me. This was uncharted territory. I felt (somewhat) confident that as a parent I would be able to help her learn to sit up, walk and talk, but I had absolutely no idea how to lead her spiritual development. I knew that it involved more than just teaching her a set of rules to follow. I had to somehow share with her this deep longing that I felt for God. As I had no foundation from which to draw, I had to start at the beginning.
Attending church regularly seemed a logical starting point. Since my knowledge of the Bible was almost nonexistent, I began reading to her from the children’s Bible that she had been given at baptism. As I read these simple, child-like stories to her, the picture of who God was and what he was doing began to unfold for me. Armed with this basic outline, I became more confident to study the Scriptures on my own. It was at this time that I began to pray with her—the first prayers I had ever said aloud. Hmmm…I was on to something. I was learning about God alongside and through my child. God had used my child to draw me to Him. Amazing.
Over the years I began teaching Sunday School—not because of my vast knowledge of Scripture but because I discovered that it was a safe and dynamic environment in which to learn and grow. Preparing to teach a lesson, identifying the most important idea and thinking through the activities and object lessons that would best illustrate this idea has been an incredible growth experience for me. The questions that my child has thrown at me from the back seat of the car have challenged me to know what I believe and why I believe it. Together we have searched the Bible for answers to problems, learned about traditions and holidays of the Church, memorized Scripture and learned the books of the Bible in order. She has challenged me to pray more authentically and, more often than I’d like to admit, she has reminded me of Jesus’ command to love others.
Recently as I was tucking her into bed, I had the opportunity to tell her about what my childhood was like not knowing about God or going to church. As I recounted to her the story of finding that Bible in my closet, her mouth hung open in disbelief. It was unfathomable to her that someone might not know about Jesus or the Bible. I explained to her that not knowing Jesus for so many years was the reason I was so excited about sharing my love for Him with her and with others. My heart was so full with Him that I just had no other choice. “Oh, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “I want my heart to feel like that too. Can I have Jesus in my heart too? Will you walk me through it?” (and yes, she did actually say ‘walk me through it’). We said a simple prayer together, hugged and said good night.
As I left her room that evening, I thanked God for allowing me to share this gift—His love—with my precious child. He has entrusted this child to me and has given me the responsibility for leading her spiritual development. But He has also given me the one tool that I need to do this—a passion for Him. It’s that simple. Praise God.
“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:3 (NIV)