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childlikeReading a few things recently has got me thinking about Childishness. Largely in the context of whether there is a difference between being childish and being childlike – and if there is one, what it is and are either of the states a desirable one to aim for?

It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about for a rather long time, but only realised recently how much of a big deal it really is. With a couple of recent posts from two great bloggers (The Brilliant Paul Grave at Red Setter Christian and the Marvelous Tim Fall – both posts really worth checking out), my own musings of the last few years and the imminent release of The Minions movie (you’ll see how those guys are relevant soon enough), I felt it was the perfect time to try and start to get my head and heart around this potentially thorny issue.

Words like “Childish” and “Immature” are thrown like insults. We tell people to “Grow Up”, to “stop being so Juvenile”, to “give over being so silly”. I often wonder whether the pejorative nature of words associated with childhood is down to so many of us seeing childhood as an undesirable state in and of itself, as seeing children themselves as “less than” other people. We’re so often concerned with (quite rightly) fighting for social justice fight for Women, LGBT, the Disabled and of course shouting from the rooftops that #blacklivesmatter that we forget the injustices that children face, simply for being children. That they are powerless to have any influence on matters that affect them; that their lives, their future, their environment are utterly in the control of others. There are some people I have encountered (unfortunately) that consider children as little more than pets, or decorations, or at worst as pests and inconveniences to be kept quiet. Could it also be that because children see us adults for who we truly are, see right through our pretences that this scares us. That their simple outlook on life that cuts out so much of our crap unsettles us – and so to diminish their wisdom, we must belittle them – and in turn, make childlike and childish behaviour something to avoid. No wonder “Childish” is such a negative word; No wonder Jesus’ words to become like children was – and continues to be – so shocking and counter-cultural.

But his words remain.
For me, the first time I saw Despicable Me, his words were brought sharply into focus. Because there before me, in picture, word and action was a demonstration of how important Jesus ‘ words really are. And how important it is to differentiate between “childlike-ness” and “childishness”. (The story also has things to tell us about imagination, about parenting, about adventure – but these are different posts that may emerge in the future.)

Almost all the characters we encounter in the story show some elements of behaviour that could be described as childlike or childish. The three children, obviously show us the benefits and pitfalls of their behaviour; Gru, with ultra-competitiveness, petty rivalry and self-focus; Vector with a whole host of negative childish traits – spoiled, cruel, petty, indifferent, show-off, irresponsible; But best of all – those wonderful minions – Eternal Children “playing” at life.

They show us the way that children look at life and suck all the marrow out of it – just wrapped up in the joy of it all. They embrace the silliness of life – and that’s one thing that is often rejected by us as adults, but really that’s just snobbery. They go at their life and tasks at full pelt, not doing things half-hearted, not doing things to “tick a box” or for the sake of it – and that kind of enthusiasm makes even failure fun (I’m a huge defender of failure as an essential life skill ^_^ ). They’re not afraid of showing their fear (the visceral terror of their “purple selves” in the second film is so endearing – and really brought out the protector in me). What we’re actually seeing is vulnerability – a childhood trait we all too soon dispense with, but in Jesus’ kingdom is essential to “getting on”. They show a selfless generosity – one without expectation of return, the kind of Kingdom Generosity that surprises and delights (and often makes me have a speck of dust in my eye). Oh and it’s not just “stuff” they’re generous with, but their affection too.

If you’ve seen their latest outing in their own film you’ll know that their Primary Motivation is to find a person to serve, to find their true master. Without someone to follow they have no purpose and become listless, depressed and joyless – losing so much of what makes them positively childlike. What is less obvious is also the idea that not only do they need to be needed by a master, but that they need each other. They’re not afraid to admit they’re not as strong alone – that in fact the defining component of their minion-ness (and the Childlike-ness that Jesus calls us to) is dependence: Dependence on each other and Dependence on “the master”.

But all these calls to be childlike do not ever give us a pass on all those other traits that are essentially about self. Just take note of pretty much everything that Vector does in the first film as noted above. And that one thing Agnes does – makes an annoying noise right after the “no annoying noise” instruction: this trait of doing the exact opposite of what someone has asked is one of the least attractive childish things you could do and pretty far from what Jesus meant when he called us to imitate children.

And yet… there’s a part of me that would be almost willing to embrace these “downsides” to childlike-ness so that I can fully embrace those other things – vulnerability, dependence, honesty, joy, enthusiasm, hope, adventurousness generosity. Because those are the things that I don’t want to miss out on, those are the things that will make me a better person, that will make me a better piece in the jigsaw of my community, that will me me better able to serve others and my master. Because without my master, I wouldn’t have much of a purpose now.