Childish and Childlike

A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio, September 2021

This week I’ve been thinking about the difference between childish and childlike. The word childish goes back to before the 12th century and was originally a neutral word that just meant being like a child, but then it became more negative. If we call a grown adult childish then we’re describing them as silly or immature, acting in a way that we find annoying, like throwing tantrums when they don’t get their own way. The word childlike, in contrast, appeared in the 15th century and is much more positive. It refers to a person who has qualities of innocence, trustfulness, openness, simplicity, joy, curiosity and wonder.

This is an important distinction for me because Jesus calls on his followers to have a childlike faith. By this I don’t think he means being naïve or foolish or not thinking for ourselves. There are other places where he makes clear the importance of being mature. But it can really help us to have some of the positive characteristics of children. Imagine being delighted by simple things like an ordinary flower, finding joy in the everyday. What if instead of playing games and hiding behind false fronts we were more honest about what we need and want, and how we feel? Might this lead to better relationships and fewer people feeling alone with their problems? What if we were more curious and asked things like ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ more often? Might this help us solve some of the problems we face as individuals and as a world, as we stop accepting things as they are and work to change them to how they might be? So many possibilities open up.

So, I hope that we might all find ways to be a little more childlike, and to appreciate the wonder of seeing things through a child’s eyes.

Take care