I live in the basement suite of a family home. It’s a nice basement, not a creepy basement, although some mornings I do look like the troll that lives under the bridge. For all intents and purposes, I’m an adopted Irish add-on to a family of six, so I’ve got to live – a crazy and colourful – few months alongside four children. In several ways I identify most with the youngest: a five-year-old girl.
She’s only little, but in the midst of everything this little girl is, and perhaps because of who she is, I’ve been challenged to think differently about some things in life.
1. Expect good things
This little girl wakes up every morning expecting the world to be on her side. She assumes that each day has goodness to be unlocked, and in everything, she is actively biased towards feeling happy. She doesn’t carry the conflict of yesterday into today. When life happens, she forgives quickly, and guides those around her back to what gives them joy. She challenges me to live as if the world is for me, rather than against me, and to strive to make it seem that way for others too.
2. Eat the cake
This kid has an impressive appetite for sweet things. She recently guzzled down a huge donut that had been cut into four for sharing before her mum looked down to see what had happened. It was awesome. She has an unspoiled appreciation of food, and it’s maybe because she hasn’t yet been exposed to the world’s voices that would have her view her body in light of man-made standards of beauty, and food as the enemy. I can’t remember a time in my own life before food became associated with feelings of guilt. So when I look at this child, I see something new — and it’s refreshing.
3. Look kindly on yourself
This child has an unspoilt perception of herself. She doesn’t love herself in a selfish way, but loves herself because she feels loved. When she’s told she looks cute or pretty, she says: “I know”, or “Thank you”, and sometimes even “You’re welcome”. She doesn’t yet dismiss, or laugh off the praise of others. But in a sweet way, she accepts what is said as true. Yes, no one likes the adult who says “I know”, when you compliment them. Yet many of us seem to lose any ability to simply accept a compliment, choosing to reject the encouragement of people who love us in favour of subtly embedded lies, or self-criticism. In this little girl, self-acceptance breeds love, rather than bitterness.
4. Hope extravagantly
This kid believes the dead Christmas tree in the garden might make it to next Christmas. She never fails to respond to ‘ready, set, go!’ for a race to the bathroom, against no other competitors. She once mused that maybe the family dog wouldn’t die, but would simply walk down the street to a new home when “we all die”. This kid is inherently hopeful. And what I love most about her hope, is how she thinks about death. She views it lightly, and in positive terms. She talks of heaven as the place God lives and the place she’ll see her grandpa again. She lives without fear of death. She challenges me to do the same.
5. Love relentlessly
This kid loves what she loves unapologetically. Exhibit A is the last scrap left of a well-loved blanket that she has virtually loved into non-existence. What she loves, she allows herself to love often — for example, she draws at least five accomplished cat portraits a day. She inspires me to belt that musical theatre song a little louder, drink more overpriced coffee, hipster a little bigger, read more, write more, and never apologise for a passionate appreciation of what this life offers.
This child encourages me to live out my Christian faith by forgiving quickly, viewing myself differently and hoping unceasingly. She knows Jesus from her storybook Bible, and trusts in a God she can’t yet understand. And yet, this young girl has brought to life for me something of God’s nature in her joy and love.
I think I’ve learnt some big things from a child who is still pretty small. And maybe that’s where the magic lies. This five-year-old girl is showing me a little human soul that hasn’t been worn down by heartbreak, rejection or disappointment. She views life, death, God, and people, with a purer, and less distrustful, sense of hope.