Every semester, I have a couple of those students who for whatever reason are incongruent with school; they don’t get along well with teachers, have attendance issues and generally don’t do much work. This leads, of course, to the dreaded parent – teacher conference. This entire meeting boils down to three things: feelings, thoughts and behaviors because these three qualities, as far as the school is concerned, are what children amount to. Parents, especially mothers; however, see their child differently. For them their child is more how he acts. There is a kernel of individuality, that the student might not even know exists, but a loving parent sees it undoubtedly because good parents treasure their babies long before their children have any sophisticated feelings, thoughts or actions.
Spend any time with a young child and you’ll see it too. Children play, sleep, talk and love without discrimination, violence or pretense. What we call innocence in children is actually the part of our identities that precedes how we act, feel or think. As we grow older and interact with our environment, we begin to identify ourselves with our choices, our desires, our thoughts and the part of our humanity so alive in childhood is slowly crowded out. In its place, we learn to see ourselves for our part in our community, both local and global. Which brings us to the quote that’s been stirring in my mind the past two weeks.
“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” – Jesus
This paradox about losing our lives in order to find it is in part an invitation by Jesus to embrace the piece of us that can only been seen by loving eyes – like those a mother possesses towards her child. The path to getting reacquainted with this essential part of us – that would exist regardless of our sociological context – is to die to the other parts of our identities. This death is especially difficult to embrace for those of us who have been trained to see ourselves only in what we consciously and unconsciously do, think and feel. Put another way, our time is filled up with a myriad of thoughts, feelings and actions, but these do not make up the totality of who we am. Often, these thoughts, feelings and actions occur as we fulfill certain roles in society. Losing my life would mean disassociating ourselves from the roles we fulfill. For instance, I am more than a teacher, husband, father or even more basic, I am more than a white, middle class, heterosexual, man. When I die to all of these roles and forsake the benefit they bring me, I will meet again the part of me that proceeding all of them. In doing so, I will acquire the joy and freedom a child brings to all she does; I will find my life.