04 December 2008

The Self-Filter

"Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven." --Matt 18:3

My son Zachary is two and a half. I'm starting to see what Jesus meant.

For fallen people, part of the process of growing up into adolescence is the increasing emergence of self-consciousness. As we become teens, we become more and more aware not only of our world but also of ourselves. And over several years, we construct a self-filter.

The Self-Filter is a kind of social and emotional strainer that reminds us, before everything we say or do or decide: "Hey, be careful now. Don't forget others will be watching. Let's consider how this word/action/decision is going to be received, how others will respond to it, how they will react. So don't go overboard. Hedge your bets. Look out for number one. Remember, the most important thing is not the truth or propriety or benefit to others of what you're about to say or do, but how it will reflect on you."

And slowly, Self rises to the forefront. And imperceptibly, joy wanes.

"Unless you turn and become like little children . . ." Zach doesn't have the filter yet. Whatever he's thinking or feeling is clear as day. This can be a big pain - if he's unhappy, there's no ability for him to stifle that, as we stoic adults do. But if he's happy - and he usually is - it is a joy that is utterly unfettered by thoughts of self. Sometimes he starts saying silly things over and over with a smile on his face. Other times he starts telling me a story (yesterday it involved a baby monkey stealing bananas from a hissing snake, complete with monkey and snake sounds). Other times he just starts dancing around the kitchen, laughing. He loves dancing. Other times it means getting lost in Winnie the Pooh books. The point is: he's not aware of himself. There's no mental mirror. He's not self-conscious. He is a little child.

"Unless you turn." I would like to be more like that. Is not the life of discipleship, the life of sanctification, moving from the adolescence of debilitating self-consciousness - many Christians die never having shed this - to the adulthood of childhood? To the maturity of childlikeness? An odd paradox. But possible, in the gospel. And it is what life in the new earth will be. Imagine. All of us will have shed the horrid Self-Filter and will be free of ourselves, free to lose ourselves in Christ and in lifting up one another. In the gospel, we can start to experience it now.

On that day, we'll love dancing. The joy will be uncontrollable, and the filter will not be holding us back.


Eric said...

Dane - I'm reminded of a quote from Chesterton's Orthodoxy, in which he talks about the "child-likeness" of God - how, in setting up the universe to run as he did, with the sun rising each morning, God takes the same fascinated delight with the same thing over and over again, the same way Zack might. But we have "sinned and grown old," as Chesterton says, no having this incurable craving for novelty. Chesterton goes off in a different direction, but it overlaps with your thoughts.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks E. awesome. I need to read more Chesterton.