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The contemplative child

Dan's picture

I keep coming back to Linda Susan Beard’s brief comments on children -- or on being a child and knowing what you want from life. She told us that she felt drawn to Christianity as a child so strongly that her mother thought she was fanatical. Her desire to be alone with Christ as often as possible caused her to want to join a Convent when she was only nine. However, her mother would not allow her to.

Are we better at listening to ourselves as children? Professor Beard attributed the accuracy of her early calling to the order to the contemplative nature of children, and she told us that many of her friends who are now monks, nuns, or priests knew that they wanted to be just that when they were five or six years old.

Of course, she experienced moments or periods when her faith wavered, and she admitted that she was glad her mother had not allowed her to join the convent and make oaths that young. She needed to experience more of life before she dove into that commitment.  

But still, I’m struck by how a child can know and understand the life and work she is moved to pursue or called to do better than a young adult or an older adult.

In my own childhood, at Claymont, I had the freedom to go explore the world the way I wanted to -- to be outside making art, and I knew then, at six or seven, that I wanted to teach. I thought teaching was the most amazing and enjoyable thing you could do (especially since my teachers were so creative and enthusiastic). I could write plays and make paper mache costumes with playful young people, and draw storyboards in the woods with wax crayons.

But then, when I aged out of the childrens school at Claymont, I went to a public school nearby, and then boarding school, and suddenly, other people’s social values and competitive inclinations began to enter into my “ideal self” image -- my goals started to shift. College had to happen, and it had to be a “good” one. My father, although he said he’d be happy no matter what I did, and that he trusts me, did and continues to suggest I pursue opportunities with prestige, like a Fulbright Fellowship, or grad school at an Ivy League.

We begin to construct ourselves as we grow up, taking into consideration what society deems respectable, valuable, intelligent, etc. And so we negotiate what we want, or we are taught to want certain things, certain ways. Whereas, the contemplative child feels what she wants, what she’s drawn to, before all the socialization has conditioned us. So maybe, when we’re confused about what our next step should be, we should think about what we wanted when we were 6.