By Caitlin Bootsma
Consultant to the VIRTUS® Programs
When I came upon my two-year old son staring at the floor, waving and saying “Hi”, I will admit I was a little worried. I mean, he has been known to say hi to bugs before, but never to the carpet… When I came a little closer and asked him what he was up to, I was relieved—he pointed to the carpet and said his name. Thank goodness, there was nothing wrong; he had just discovered his shadow!
I never had much interest in child development prior to having kids. I mean, sure, I have six younger siblings and would be appropriately proud of them when they mastered a new skill, be it diving into the swimming pool or learning to bake. What was a somewhat affected interest, however, became fascination when I was suddenly around a baby 24-hours per day.
If you are anything like me, you do not remember when you learned these sorts of things. I do remember when I learned to put on a jacket and to tie a shoe, but certainly not when I spoke my first word or communicated my first memory.
Now, I have the opportunity to witness first-hand how a child begins to interact with the world. It was hard not to laugh when my son did not want to go to bed the other night. Eventually, I let him take me by the hand and he led me to the spot he had saw his shadow earlier in the day. “Hi?” he questioned. Instantly, I saw why he was upset—his shadow had disappeared!
It struck me how much watching children grow can teach us about our own relationship with God. We learn about Him through things we are taught, by things we observe and by prayers that are answered. And yet, like a toddler still grasping to understand the complete meaning of a shadow, we cannot understand God in His totality.
It reminds me of how often I have thought about God in one way, only to be totally surprised. For example, I remember praying that God would bless my family with a job, only to be disappointed. Years later, though, I realized that God did answer the prayer, just not in the way that I expected. Many people experience their prayers being answered in surprising ways. Whether it is someone who longed to be a parent, but for the time being finds themselves teaching many children. Or, perhaps another desperately wanted a specific job, but instead ended up with one more in line with their vocation.
As educators of children, regardless of our actual positions within the Church environment, we have the privilege of teaching them about God just as they are also learning about the nature of the world. Teaching children about God and about the world, however, can pose its challenges.
How do you explain the science behind shadows to a two-year old who cannot yet fully understand? I settled for telling my confused toddler that shadows come when the sun is up and that we could tell it “hi” again tomorrow. One day, he will have grown up to the point where he can understand more about shadows and I will have the privilege of teaching him.
Similarly, we often are able to teach children about the faith in small steps. While they may not understand fullness of the concept “transubstantiation”, we can teach children that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus. The complete Theology of the Body may be too mature of content for youth, but they certainly can learn how God created each one of us with value and dignity.
The fun my Peter Pan has with his shadow gets me every time. I knew I wanted children, but I had no idea how much joy their small discoveries would give me. As parents, educators and volunteers we are able to witness children learning about life and about God. Seeing life through a child’s eyes can enhance our own spiritual life by reminding us that God, and all that He created (even shadows), are pretty amazing.