Children from my second host family, posted with their permission. In the right photo are Kim & Jessa.
The best way to learn a foreign language, or to enter a different culture, is to befriend children. My two host families had plenty of children, so there was playing, singing, dancing. Kyla, a 2 year-old girl, was particularly fond of dancing “Nobody” (the present rage in the Philippines). JR, a 7 year-old boy, especially loved dancing on my shoulders! Yet, it was the older children – two sisters in their teens – whom I befriended more. Jessa liked to sing Praise and Worship songs. She had a beautiful voice, yet was shy. I was able to convince her to sing “Heart of Worship” with me in front of 80 people. We agreed to do it for God. It was a first for me, as well as for her. My desire to help boost her self-confidence in turn helped me overcome my deep fear of performing in public. Her sister Kim, reminded me of myself in my self-conscious teenage years. Yet, there was a fire in Kim’s eyes and a passion in her heart that awaited something to trigger their spark. So we spoke of “emotional intelligence,” of developing inner habits that cultivates one’s sensitivity to understand and courage to tame one’s emotions. Although Kim and I had only begun talking about this journey of growth, I felt the work of the Holy Spirit through our interactions. And though Jessa and I only sang together in public once, the wind of change has begun to move through us.
During Mass on October 1st, Fr Paul Malvaux, a brother Jesuit Tertian from Belgium, preached the following: “Why did Jesus said, ‘Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 18:3-4)? I don’t think it’s because children are perfect. I don’t know any perfect child. I don’t think it’s because they are innocent. I don’t know how you can say that a child is really innocent. But what I saw and what I know is that children are just the way they are. If a child is sad, he will just cry and run to his mother. If a child is happy, she will just smile and laugh and sing. And if a child needs something, he will just look at you and ask. So, similarly we have to be in our relationship with God: as simple and direct as a child. Just to be whatever, in the way that we are. Express ourselves simply, as we are to God. Thus, we can humbly be ourselves. And when we are so, the Lord is always at our side listening and supporting us in whatever we tell Him. I think it was also the way St Thérèse of Lisieux used to act. She was declared a Doctor of the Church not because she had theological skills or degrees. But she had the intelligence and simplicity of the heart. Which is the only thing God wants from us.”
So true: Kyla & RJ are not innocent; Jessa and Kim are not perfect, for they are very much growing in self-confidence. But they are just themselves with me. And they help me to be just myself with God – imperfect, insecure, selfish, fearful and often judgmental. This is St Thérèse’s “Little Way,” embracing the heart of a child before God.