"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me." - Matthew 18:3-5
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and the above Gospel quotation helps focus our attention on our responsibility to act mercifully. This reflection speaks to my response to my child-like merciful love on continuous offer.
Growing up, I thought about being a mom like many of my friends but had a stronger calling to live a single life. When I was 14, I knew I would be an aunt for the very first time. I never knew the outcome. I just thought, as a teenager, "great a baby cramping my style." I never really thought of being an aunt as a calling, but after 25+ years of living this vocation, I realized it helped my "style" and grew my faith. I love this quote by an Irish poet Robert Lynd.
"There is something in the relationship between aunts and their nephews and nieces that is quite unlike any other. In the company of their aunts, nephews and nieces know that they are privileged persons. The bonds of duty are somehow relaxed: they have no obligations but to be happy."
As long as I can remember, that's what I wanted growing up — to be the person in kids' lives whose sole ministry is to make them feel loved and safe.
Kids are incredible little human beings. Endlessly strange, honest, fun, surprising. They rule, right? I'm extra thankful for my role as Aunt to many children of many cultures.
Recall your own Aunt(s). Aunts, as a people, have a unique charm. They're the women who act silly with you. They're the ones to take you to Chucky Cheese and played endless games with you and never yelled at you for leaning back in your chair. They're the ones that took you on adventures and inspired you with their own.
My own nieces and nephews are a mix of traditional and adopted: 4 came from my sister, 4 from my brother, 6 great neices and nephews, the other three from my two BFFs and countless others from my church family. That's one of the many fantastic parts of aunthood: the bond is thicker than blood. If there's anything better in this world than tiny, adorable humans to whom you are biologically or socially obligated love and serve forever and ever, I have not found it. As an aunt, there's so much to enjoy, including opportunities for love, mercy, and service.
Aunt Amy in action.
You get to feel a lot cooler than you actually are.
I mean, when it comes to looking cool as an aunt, it's not like you have a lot of competition. A little kid really only knows their parents, some adults who yeah, can reach stuff on high shelves, but also are the ones doing less savory offerings like broccoli and discipline. Even if you live in the same town, you retain some belonging status, which lends a cool mystery. You have the option to be the first adult to award this small human their first bottle of nail polish, their first taste of pop music, their first glimpse of (gasp!) a bedtime past 8 p.m.
You're allowed to be super weird. In fact, it's a requirement. As an aunt, I can be the crazy "Kid" to all these nieces and nephews! That's the point, right? God calls children a blessing and a gift! Their spirits are filled with innocence, joy and laughter.
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth."
- 2 Eph 5:8-9
Childlikeness isn't something we can acquire on our own. It's a grace we must ask for, and one that the Father is most willing to give us. While acting in service toward children, an overall quirkiness is not only tolerated but actually welcomed. It is super fun to let the floodgates loose, relax, and be present to them and for them. I could make a habit of wearing blue eye-shadow on my cheeks, forgetting about it when you go thru the drive-thru line, and the Starbucks employee points it out to the great enjoyment of a niece or nephew. I am encouraged to sing and play weirdly to Jingle bells laughing and smiling at ourselves.
We're all some version of that "Crazy Kid" called Aunt: embrace the strange, express the outpouring of love you feel as Aunt or Uncle, and entertain the nieces and nephews.
Where else do you get the opportunity to play with soccer ball weirdly in public? What about icing-eating contests? Pope Pius XI described St. Dominic Savio as "small in size, but a towering giant in spirit." It is our job to perform the merciful act of meeting the child where they are and being with them in that moment. For example: sitting in my 1 1/2-year-old niece's little chair next to her knowing it will make her smile, laugh and giggle; that you are acting like a silly crazy kid with her. You get the chance to revisit your own carefree childhood without anyone thinking you're weird.
Children are remarkably truthful but also kind and loving. All my traditional nieces and nephews are all grown now. Two of my adopted nieces are teenagers. I've known them since they were born. Now the 16-year-old and I have had insightful conversations. She had grown old enough to recall all the silly stuff we did when I babysat her when we were younger. We sang and danced, holding Christmas trees. I smile back at this memory and remember one of my own. I recall learning a song in Second grade called, "Smile! Don't you know God loves you? Come to think of it, I love you too. Take the time to smile at someone, and before you're through, someone will be smiling back at you" by Unknown artist. My niece told me she remembers that memory. I begin to smile (like I always do) and think that is my vocation, my purpose. Now, she asks questions about her faith, wants to talk about her struggles and her love for others.
"But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through this belief you may have life in his name".
- Jn 20:31
I get to be that child-like Aunt even when it comes to her faith and belief. To be an example like Jesus and all his followers, or to seek the "Little Way" of Saint Therese.
Watching another human grow in size, grammar, interests, and profoundly off-color sense of humor is so exciting. You get to experience it in real-time and later taunt them for things like that phase they'll go through as teenagers. God continues to guide our lives, and changes only continue to happen. And with all that change, your relationship warps into a lasting friendship. One that, once everyone is an adult, may lead to a merciful and faith-filled relationship full of grace, joy, and laughter.
Just remember, we need to laugh, smile, giggle, and be humble. Jesus wants us to be child-like to ensure we are together at HIS right hand. Be small, express mercy, and meet the "kids" where they are. Don't you know God loves you? Let us share that Gospel with child-like wonder and love.