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The Innocence of Childhood

Innocence of ChildhoodCan one recapture the innocence of childhood? Unfortunately not. But what a gift if we choose to recapture the path that leads us there.

The past several weekends, my husband and I have enjoyed a rare phenomenon in our lives – an empty house. With no ball games to attend or social functions for the kids, we’ve enjoyed some unexpected relaxation. It’s the first time in years that we’ve wandered through the yard just to take in its beauty, relax with a book, or (shhhh) take a nap! As we remarked about our new-found time, I couldn’t help but remember this once busy backyard filled with the sound of squealing children; days where barefoot dancing and unfiltered imagination were abundant. In Matthew 18, we hear Jesus remind us about having a childlike faith. For a moment, I close my eyes and imagine what that looks like.

I imagine the serenity of a sleeping newborn filled with trust as it settles down to the smell and feel of their parent or the big smile that appears when their awakened eyes finally come into focus with them. The complete abandonment the child shows reminds me of the absolute abandonment God asks of us in response to His depth of love for us. When my daughter was about three years old, I caught her speaking softly as we drove in the car. When I asked her who she was talking to she said “the angels”. My response was what you might imagine – “Oh, ok honey, that’s nice. Say hi for me!” The truth is, I believe that as children we are all born with this innocent trust, this profound humility. After all, weren’t they the first gifts given to Adam and Eve?

There is magic in watching that kind of abandonment in a child. The glee in jumping on the bed, pouncing in a puddle, and dancing in the rain. A place where curiosity exceeds fear and exploring leads to answers. The innocence of childhood is unhindered, authentic. This innocence is still of the heavenly realm. But, to live in the earthly realm, we are introduced to its earthly ways. The battle of love and hate begin and they wage war over every soul. As parents, we do everything in our power to protect this innocence and mourn the day evil disrupts it in the form of distrust, hatred, prejudice, etc.

As individuals, we may not remember the day or time our own innocence was lost. For many of us, it’s a slow fade. Those little moments when our confidence is shattered by an unkind word, or we are laughed at when sharing something from our heart. It leaves our world of trust and safety a bit bruised and our inner walls of protection develop. One day we realize we’re seeking God instead of conversing with Him. We lose that sense of abandonment and we begin our life’s journey in search for it once again.

This deep-rooted desire for meaning and purpose we often look for, leaves us with a void throughout our life. We are all called to seek God to fill that void with His love, but for some, that void is filled with earthly possessions,  and sadly for others, its filled with drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. Years ago, I remember reading in a book called To Heaven and Back, by Mary C. Neal, that the soul is timeless and comes to earth in order to learn something new or otherwise attain spiritual growth. With that understanding, it would seem that we could never recapture the innocence of childhood because we are brought here to learn more – to be more. Is it, perhaps, in the learning that we slip away from our connection with the Divine?

To stop and see the world through the eyes of a child is to recapture the sense of awe in the ordinary. The delight in seeing their fascination with the color of a bug, or the exhilaration of chasing a firefly. There is such happiness in their freedom to simply stop and spin around with joy. Who wouldn’t want to recapture that?! It’s the difference between finding happiness and seeking joy. Joy is the happiness that only God can instill in one’s soul; a trusted sense of wisdom – of knowing. Something that assures us that although this moment is fleeting, God’s love isn’t. Happiness is based on what’s happening around us where joy is based on what’s happening within us.

So although we may not be able to recapture childhood innocence, we can recapture, with the grace of God, the joy He intended with the right attitude for the experiences of our lives

Happiness is smiling when the sun is out. Joy is dancing in the downpour.

A Family Woman Linda Prayer Spiritual Growth

Vacation Transformation – Travel And The Road To Self-Discovery

School has ended and the hustle and bustle that comes with all the juggling of schedules and activities has come to a halt. By now you’ve probably exclaimed, “I NEED A VACATION!!”

Somehow our bodies and minds seem to know when “we’re ready.” Hopefully you haven’t filled your vacation time with that same list of to-dos. So often we go against what our bodies are telling us and continue the same pattern of planning activity after activity – even on our vacation. As the years pass, our vacation or travel time has changed. Although my husband and I enjoy exploring and finding fun things to do in the communities we visit, we have also found that the travel process transforms us in our quest for self-discovery. Whether you are travelling abroad or simply taking day trips, the process of leaving the everyday routine and exploring new things can be a deep, spiritual experience.

Travel time, when done reflectively, can offer us new perspectives as well as being able to recognize harmful patterns in our life. By immersing ourselves in another culture or lifestyle, we can better understand our own beliefs and values. A few years ago, I found a small book at a local flea market called The Way Of The Traveler, by Joseph Dispenza. The book speaks of the process of how, with each new experience we encounter, we find out something new about ourselves. Although I couldn’t relate to everything in the book, I did find some of his thoughts and exercises helpful in transforming the way I view my time away, wherever that may be.

Sometimes we choose a destination, other times, a destination chooses us. Travel isn’t just about the destination, you’ve heard, it’s about the journey. Each facet of the journey is part of the experience, the preparation, the departure, the approach, the arrival, and the return. If you embrace the idea that travel can be a road to self-discovery then the goal is always to bring something back that becomes a new part of who God calls us to be.

As we prepare for travel, there are things we can include with the swimsuits and sunscreen. We can ask God to show us why we have been called to this place and bring an open mind to chance encounters, a joyful spirit (leave the negativity behind), and a great sense of adventure.

Next, there’s the departure from home. The simple act of stepping away from the same routine of everyday can be an act of willingness to change. Change can be so scary for people, but knowing that you have the roots of home to return to should empower you. Your home is a place of comfort, familiarity, and stability. Closing the door is temporary and you are opening the door to the mystery of adventure; an adventure that will bring an exciting change within you.

I was intrigued with Dispenza’s remarks on the approach to travel; getting to our destination. He references how “medieval cathedrals were designed with the concept of the approach foremost in the minds of the builder.” There have been times that the approach to travel has been crazy with my husband. His “let’s take a short-cut” proclamations make me cringe and hours later (and a few angry words shared), we finally arrive. Even though this isn’t always an ideal situation, he’s taught me to appreciate the approach – the sights along the way can be just as moving as the destination itself. The past few years we’ve done this a few times as we traveled to Vermont, upstate NY, and most especially back in 2015 when he announced that our vacation that year would be a College Road Trip.

My son was a junior in high school at the time and after a rough year, we hadn’t really made many college visits with him. We took a little over a week and incorporated three different visits. The most frightening part was when my husband said – we’re not making any reservations, we’ll find something along the way. Did I mention that I’m a Type A personality where checklists and back up plans are just a natural part of my nature? But, no reservations were made and we were off!

Taughanook Falls State Park, NY

I’m thankful for a God that always surrounds us with His provisions. Surprisingly, there was only one overnight at a hotel.  Otherwise, with a few short phone calls,  we were invited to stay with friends as well as a great visit with my brother and his family. We saw the river life and superb hospitality in Massachusetts, wine tasting at a quaint vineyard in Rhode Island, and the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont (with all its twisty roads). We enjoyed the comforts of home with family while lounging in their pool, and ended with a scenic drive along the Finger Lakes which was filled with  wineries, distilleries, and breweries tucked along a strip of road that shares the wonders of cascading falls and some of the most picturesque woodlands I’ve ever seen. Even the occasional wrong turn promised adventure. Remember even mishaps can turn into an encounter.  

Along our journey there were several arrivals, each bringing something special and unique. The key was to embrace each encounter and search for the beauty in our surroundings, in people, in communities, and in ourselves. My husband and I are people watchers. We never seem to get bored while waiting – whether it’s for a flight, on line or anything else. Sometimes we watch people, other times we admire the architecture, breathtaking views, or sunsets. Sometimes we look at things that we never even knew existed. With each new experience, we are changed. A few years ago, I started talking to God in those moments and asking Him what he wanted me to notice about myself, someone else, or my surroundings. I often close my eyes and use my senses – to smell the aromas around me, or to taste foods of different cultures – it’s transforming.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
~ Walt Whitman – Song of the Open Road ~

On my last day of vacation, I usually wake with a little knot in my stomach knowing that my little respite is over. It’s time to return to a life that’s very different. I realize that it’s also a life of familiarity and safety and that I’m bringing this new experience back with me. When possible, I like to rise early on that last day and take one last deep breathe in of all that surrounds me. Last year, I woke early to catch the sunrise on the bay. As the sun began to rise and I took another sip of my coffee, the certainty that the same sun was rising and/or setting somewhere else in the world filled me. Same sun – different experience. In these moments, I know that I am a part of something so much bigger than I can ever imagine and there is a God watching over every tiny detail.

As I use these experiences to journey inward, I find many times that there’s another person that’s been hidden away. Sometimes, I forget that person and I’m thankful to find her again. The artist sees the creativity in sculpted gardens and art, the missionary spots someone less fortunate, and the little girl sees the joy and laughter in an ice cream cone. It awakens me. Transforms me.

There is a new balance when I return home. Its familiarity welcomes me, but something is different. I need to find a place for these new discoveries. As Mr. Dispenza tells us, upon our return, “There is the grace of self-knowledge, wisdom, and peace.”

Here’s a sampling of some reflection questions adapted from The Way Of The Traveler:

  • The most surprising thing I am finding out about myself is?
  • What I am learning about other people that I never knew before?
  • If I had more time to spend at my destinations, what would I have done?
  • Of the things I’m learning about myself, I may have to readjust my thinking on the following:

So as you zip that last suitcase and hear the click of the door behind you, remember to invite God to be your travel partner and get ready to discover the vacation transformation He has in store for you.