My father-in-law used to believe that he would be a hands-off grandparent. Then his grandson showed up. Before he knew what hit him, he was bouncing a giddy, drooling blonde on his knee to the tempo of the William Tell Overture. Whenever he holds my son, a distinct expression crosses his face. He turns to me, and asks the same question every time: “Why can’t we stay like this forever? God wants nothing more from us than this divine innocence…Why do we always lose it?”
He’s right—to an extent. Children have a profoundly beautiful outlook on the world, and though we gain wisdom as we mature, we begin to lose our innocence once we experience being hurt by the world around us. We learn to react by putting our defenses up and keeping our distance, reactions which not only distance us from our global family, but from God. But kids aren’t perfect, either. They can be selfish too, and can make hurtful mistakes in how they relate to others.
After hearing my father-in-law’s question enough times, I could not help but want to find a good answer, and like any writer, I turned to books. The story which provided me with the most insight is a peculiar one: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For those who have not read the story or seen the 2008 film adaptation, Benjamin Button is born as an elderly man and ages backwards. Fitzgerald’s work calls into question the value of youth and experience equally, and got me thinking: What if we lived our lives gleaning the best of both worlds, celebrating our maturity while honoring the timeless truths of childhood?
Reverend Moon teaches that life occurs in three ordered stages of growth, which are meant to guide us towards the fulfillment of the first blessing: to be fruitful. As we mature and progress through these stages, we often consider it necessary to “give up our childish ways,” but in doing so, we may unknowingly be giving up the fundamental truths that keep us connected with the Divine.
Here are some “Benjamin Button”-inspired tips to cultivate your spiritual life in a way that celebrates all our years have taught us, while tapping back into the youthful insights we may have lost.
Write a Letter to the Past
A character in the film adaptation declares, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forward.” What insights have you gained over the years that you wish you had known earlier? Try writing them down in a letter to your younger self, thinking back to the worldview you once had. Then, reverse the exercise, writing a letter from your younger self back to who you are today. What lessons from childhood might be worth reviving?
At a certain point in our maturation, we tend to become content with not knowing everything. But what if the answers we seek lie precisely in the things we’ve decided aren’t worth learning? Try dabbling in a new subject, doing a comparative reading of different religious scriptures, or seeking out a friendship with someone you’d normally never approach. Choose to ask questions, especially if that’s something you find challenging!
Is there someone you find challenging to forgive, either in your current life or from your past? Picture them as a small child—and picture yourself as one too. What would our Heavenly Parent want you to feel towards each other? When we choose to view our transgressors with a familial heart, their actions can be easier to understand, and we remind ourselves that we are all still children, trying our best to make our way through this complex world.
What other tips would you recommend to keep our youthful innocence alive as we mature?