Why We Must Become Like Little Children Again

little children

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They’re fighting over grapes.

My daughter Caitlin, age 8, has decided she wants grapes for breakfast, and her older brother Quinn, age 10, has decided to run interference. He gets to the grapes before her and tells her he’ll break off a cluster of grapes for her and keep the rest for himself.

Caitlin never suffers injustice quietly.

She plants her feet, looks him in the eye, points a finger at his chest, and says, “Quinn, you are being controlling!” Quinn looks at her, pauses for a moment, and then surprises both of us. “No,” he says, “I’m not controlling; I’m greedy.”

Then, he apologizes and hands her the bowl of grapes.

“Truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The meaning of this proclamation has been debated for millennia. What does it mean to become like little children? How does this usher us into the kingdom of heaven? And, oh, by the way, what in the world is the kingdom of heaven?

Whether you think of Jesus as truly a God-man, simply a wise man, or ultimately a crazy man, this declaration of his tends to capture your attention. It rings true. And yet the tenor of that ring feels complicated and uncertain and mysterious. Right now, I’m not interested in changing your decision about what kind of man he was, nor am I interested in uncomplicating this particular teaching of his.

But I don’t mind telling you how it has changed my life.

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This Is the Powerful Promise of Our Pain

belonging

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Piteously. She hung her little head and whimpered piteously. Spell the word piteously.”

For three years, my oldest son Aidan has been aspiring to win his middle school spelling bee. In sixth grade, he froze up and was out in the first round. Days of heckling ensued. In seventh grade, he placed second. No heckling, just a hint of his own disappointment. This year, he’s the favorite, and he has his eyes set on the trophy that is, bizarrely, half his size. Then, after a half-dozen rounds dueling with the remaining contestant, the pronouncer asks Aidan to spell the word piteously.

Aidan spells it with two “i”s.

I’m watching via Facebook Live and I pump my fists in exaltation, believing he has spelled it correctly. The pronouncer tells us otherwise. And, on the screen of my mobile phone, my beloved son simply deflates. Somehow, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut, too. Sure, it’s just a middle school spelling bee, but still, I want to claw my way through the digital screen and wrap him in a father’s hug.

There is nothing rational about it. A hug won’t roll back time and change an “i” to an “e.” A hug won’t prevent him from feeling piteous before his peers for the rest of the day. In this moment, a hug is no more and no less than the full promise of his pain, and the promise is this:

Pain pulls us together.

More than fourteen years ago, when he got stuck in the birth canal and his heart rate was dropping, his earliest moments of pain and peril turned all of my life’s priorities upside down. Everything I thought was important was suddenly inconsequential, and the only thing that mattered was holding him in my arms.

Pain disorients us and then reorients us to each other.  

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How Your Phone Is Robbing You of You

cell phones psychology

My son is waiting by the road for his ride to school.

I remember being fourteen and waiting for my ride to school. Sometimes, I would try to walk the balance beam of railroad ties separating our yard from the shoulder of the road. But I bored of that quickly. Then, I would pass the time walking into myself. I’d think thoughts. Feel feelings. Wonder about who I was and where I was going. Daydream of dating girls who were way out of my league. Feel insecure, even in my own daydreams. In other words, I’d wander into my humanity.

My son is not walking railroad ties.

But even more importantly, he’s not walking into himself. He’s not wandering into the infinite abyss of his humanity. Rather, he’s wandering into the infinite abyss of something else. He’s on his phone. Rather than venturing into his interior world, he’s venturing into his digital world.

This is tragic.

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An Old Man’s 7 Resolutions for a New Year

As we age, it seems, life presents us with two options: denial or humility. And, in my opinion, if you decide to trade-in your denial about your limitations for a little bit of humility, you might as well fold some of that humility into your New Year’s resolutions…

funny new year's resolutions

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This year, I’m going to stretch.

I’m not going to stretch because I’m training for the 2020 Summer Olympics or a marathon or a Tough Mudder, or even a 5k. No, these days, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m not stretching out of ambition, I’m stretching for the sake of prevention. I’m stretching so I can walk into the grocery store without a limp. So I can ascend a flight of stairs without pulling a hamstring. So I can roll out of bed without throwing out my back.

When I was younger, my New Year’s Resolutions were usually, in some way, related to conquering the world; now, as I age, my goal is a bit more ordinary: I just want to continue functioning in the world. So, if you’re like me and time has humbled you—if you now realize that mind-over-matter is a privilege of youth and, in the end, matter always wins, by eventually changing form—here is a list of New Year’s Resolutions for you to consider.

After all, it’s a worthy goal to be an upstanding citizen, but the older you get, the more you need to focus on simply standing up…

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How to Show Up to Your Life

We traveled together, this young boy and I.

We were in the back of a hired car, on the way to the airport. I was scheduled to give a national radio interview the next day, and I was mostly looking forward to the adventure. Flying isn’t my favorite thing to do, but the weather was good and I had plenty of margin in my schedule for unforeseen delays and unpreventable problems.

But my little traveling companion was a mess.

inner child

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He was worried about what might happen, what might not happen, and everything in between. I tried to ignore him for a while, but that seemed to make him more scared. So, I tried to convince him there was nothing to worry about, that nothing would go wrong. Nope. Too smart to be fooled by platitudes. My efforts were making his anxiety worse.

He was close to panic.

Then, I told him, no matter what happened, I’d take care of him. I told him he could relax, because even if things went wonky, I’d handle it. I told him it’s okay to be anxious, because when you’re a kid you lack control over almost everything and you pretty much can’t protect yourself from anything. But, I told him, you can relax if you want, because I’m in charge now, and I’ll make sure things turn out as well as they possibly can. I simply invited him along for the ride. And do you know what happened?

Slowly, he calmed down.

I embraced him and we walked through the airport together and got on the plane together and found the rental car together and checked into the hotel together and, believe it or not, we went on the radio together. The studio was a little intimidating for him, but I told him I couldn’t do the interview without him, because in a lot of ways, he’s wiser than me. Wiser in a way only kids can be. Once again, I invited him along for the ride. And he did great. We did great.

It turns out, we work really well together.

I wish I would have reassured him like that years ago, because that scared little boy has gone on a lot of adventures with me, always afraid, always wishing he could just go home and hide under the covers. But I guess I couldn’t really do that sooner, because the truth is, for most of my life, I didn’t even know that boy existed.

You see, that little boy is the little kid in me.

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Whoa, That’s Deep!

When we moved from the suburbs back to my rural hometown, I thought we’d be trading the cacophony of Chicagoland for the quiet of the country. And, in a way, we did. The thing is, the countryside wasn’t as quiet as I thought it would be. In a really good way…

The Loveable Podcast

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On a spring morning, the birds twitter and tweet and make a concert of their morning song. On a summer evening, the cicadas crescendo in the crowded trees, until, in the small hours of the night, they finally quiet, and the crickets take over, with their constant hum. On an autumn afternoon, dry leaves rustle in the treetops, and they skitter raspy along two-lane roads. In the winter, a snowfall can lay undisturbed for hours, and the muffled world fills your ears with the tinny ringing of your own blood rushing.

Underneath the loud and frenetic world we’ve created is a world that’s been created for us, and it moves to a deeper, slower rhythm.

I was recently asked, in an interview about Loveable, how do we start the journey toward wholeness? My answer was…space. Space to rest, to notice and to feel, to contemplate and to question. Space to move deeper into the wholeness that already exists, forgotten and neglected, somewhere within the depths of us.

Depth.

As we live increasingly on-line, where depth is quickly going extinct, it can look like the desire for depth is dying, too. For instance, the comments section of a blog was once the place you went for meaningful conversation; now, it’s the place you go to troll people. Not so long ago, social media was where you shared content that stirred your thinking and your heart. Now, generally, social media is where you stir up controversy and conflict.

But the publishing of Loveable renewed my hope.

The desire for depth has not died and it has not even gone dormant. We simply don’t go to social media for it anymore.

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How Can You Trust a Therapist’s Authority?

Confession: the first time I went to therapy, I’d been a therapist for more than five years.

I asked a friend for a recommendation. He gave me the name of a therapist. I conveniently lost the number. Several weeks later, I asked him for it again, and he gave it to me again. It collected dust for a few more weeks. Then, one day, when the suffering within me finally outweighed the resistance within me, I made the call.

No one likes to schedule a first therapy session.

therapist naperville

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It’s hard enough to spill your mess in front of a perfect stranger. It’s hard enough to present your pain to someone you’ve never met. It’s hard enough to reveal your hidden parts to someone you have not yet begun to trust. But, ironically, it’s particularly hard in therapy, not because you don’t know anything about this therapist person, but because you think you know at least one thing:

You think they’re different than you.

They’re a therapist, so they’ve got it all together. They’ve figured it out. They’ve arrived. Whether by good fortune or good training or some combination of the two, they are on a whole different level of health and happiness. They may not be superhuman, but as you pick up the phone, you assume they are at least a little better human than you.

This, is baloney.

The authority of a therapist does not come from some big difference; it comes from just a little bit of distance.

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The Definition of Freedom (According to a Psychologist)

What is freedom?

Today, in America, we celebrate Independence Day. Yet, even in the land of the free, our definitions of freedom differ dramatically. A historian might focus on the rebellion of thirteen little colonies against a great imperial power. A conservative American might focus on the right to bear arms. A progressive American might focus on freedom of speech. And, on the Fourth of July, some Americans might simply focus on a day free from work and free for fireworks.

What is freedom?

freedom

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When I asked my seven-year-old daughter that question, she said, “Freedom is being out in the world for your life.” For a little girl who needs permission to go outside to play, freedom is the right to roam.

In contrast, when I asked my thirteen-year-old son for the definition of freedom, he replied, “Freedom is getting to be unique together.” In middle school, there is immense pressure to conform in order to be cool. So, to simply be himself, along with every other unique soul, is the definition of freedom.

What is freedom?

Apparently, your definition of freedom depends upon who you are—your age and your political persuasion and, probably, your personality and your faith and your fears and your wounds. Indeed, there may be as many definitions of freedom as there are people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s this psychologist’s definition of freedom:

Freedom is accepting that, usually, the freedom we fantasize about does not exist.

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A Therapist Explains Why We’re All So Ticked Off in Social Media

Parenting fail alert.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday night, my thirteen-year-old son Aidan forgot to finish his chores. I’d relocated some plants in the yard, and I’d asked him to water them. He didn’t. I immediately decided his work ethic was lacking—probably because of YouTube—so I told him he was grounded from his phone.

He got angry.

I sent him to his room.

Because when my kids are sad I want to hold them, and when my kids are scared I want to encourage them, but when my kids are angry I want to punish them. I don’t want to listen to it; I want to squash it.

When they get angry, I get angry right back.

anger

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This is natural: our brains are wired to experience anger as a threat, so we reflexively return the threat. And then some. Not to mention, we tend to think of sorrow and fear as relatively harmless emotions—if they do damage, it is only to the person feeling them—but we tend to think of anger as an unhealthy emotion. Bad. Destructive. Most of us have been wounded by someone’s anger, and we want to put an end to the wounding.

So we send anger to its room.

And yet.

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The Kind of Trophy Every Kid Should Receive

These days, every kid gets a trophy.

A lot of people don’t like that.

And I understand. Trophies are about performance. They are meant to honor hierarchy, to differentiate winners from losers. And they’re supposed to prepare our kids for a dog-eat-dog world, where simply showing up isn’t the same as working your way up. Like I said, I get it.

So, why do we keep doing it?

self-esteem

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In Loveable, I tell this story:

…when the other team scored against us, I sprinted for midfield. I was waiting for my team when they arrived, and gave high-fives all around, as if we had scored the goal. Because when a bunch of six-year-olds fail and then look to you, they’re never wondering how they did; they’re always wondering who they are. They’re not wondering who gets the biggest trophy; they’re wondering who gets the biggest hug.

Trophies are like golden hugs.

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