The stress of the past few weeks has reminded me of both the benefits and the drawbacks of being an adult. Perhaps you yourself can relate. Throughout the course of my daily existence, I expend a huge amount of energy attempting to navigate the world of interpersonal communication. Often I have to take account for the frailties, neuroses, personality defects, and defense mechanisms of those with whom I regularly encounter. It can at times be overwhelming and frustrating trying to not step on toes or to minimize conflict by means of damage control mode when I inadvertently do so. And as cobble together an apology and take stock of the situation, I find myself resenting the cruelty and sadism of humanity, which gives many people ample reason to build walls around themselves by means of protection. These attitudes only complicate crucial communication and trust and keep us separate from each other.
The anger of the Tea Party devotees upsets me, but what upsets me more is the degree of hostility and bitterness that has come to typify this entire process. I recognize that expecting otherwise is probably foolish, but I mourn when our nation’s fabric is rent asunder for any reason. Though this sentiment has long sense passed into platitude, we are all Americans, and moreover we are all human beings who share the same land. I do not enjoy, nor particularly thrive in an atmosphere where a ceaseless war of words rages. To be sure, I do not shirk away from these situations when they arise, but after a time the constant back and forth proves to be toxic and noxious, not just to me, but to everyone.
I didn’t have an especially happy childhood. Even when I was a child, I wished to be an adult. Adulthood to me represented a time where I would be taken seriously and where everyone else around me would be more or less on the same page. Now I find that this is true only up to a point. Among some I am taken seriously and among other I never will be. And as for my being on the same page with all, well, that’s a matter for debate. What I have discovered that with age often comes a rapidly growing history of psychological damage, increasingly guarded personal conduct, and all of these manifestations a form of the many lingering effects of internalized pain. Anger is really only a form of hurt, after all.
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I understand why many people enjoy working with children. They are unguarded, honest, vulnerable, and often endearingly sweet. Their basic nature stands in great contrast to the games we play as adults. When I still lived in Birmingham I would periodically take my turn to watch the children while the adults worshiped. When I did, I often found solace in the company of little ones who were largely nonjudgmental and lived only in the present moment. This isn’t to say that children can’t be just as cruel and vicious to each other as adults can, but that in conversing with them, one has less minefields to gingerly walk through and less need to plan for exit strategies.
Forgive me this question, but, friends, why must it be this complicated? What if we didn’t have to read the latest New York Times bestseller just to understand how to properly interact with each other? What if it didn’t take hours of therapy and thousands of dollars just to be able to be honest with our own pain and ourselves, to say nothing of the pain of others? What if we could bear to leave the armor down long enough to separate friend from foe? While some find it fascinating to observe and note the ways in which we are twisted and wizened, noting the unique nature of our scars, I find the combined impact deeply unfortunate and tragic. People to me are not a scientific experiment gone awry, they are individuals seeking love. And by love I don’t necessarily mean romantic love, but agape—charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional love for ourselves and for others. If we are ever going to begin the slow, but necessary process of healing, we must commit ourselves to it, all the time recognizing that the best offense isn’t necessarily a good defense.
Let us resolve to be honest with that which is broken in all of us. Throw open the doors wide. Don’t automatically reach for cynicism and skepticism in all situations, nor expect the worst for fear of not attaining the best. Don’t recoil and draw back at someone else’s immaturity or hurt directed in inappropriate ways towards inappropriate targets. Consider being like little children in all the best ways. Perhaps peace of mind isn’t so elusive after all. What do we have to lose?