My five-year-old daughter, as children often do, recently gave me a piece of art she had created. It was the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” in fancy lettering — or at least it was fancy in the imagination of a five-year-old. In fact, most of the words were squished up towards the top half of the paper, many were misspelled, a few letters were backwards, and if she hadn’t told me what it was supposed to say I’m not sure I could have figured it out.
When children give us artwork, parents always gush over it, saying how much we love it before putting it on the refrigerator in a prominent place. These little mementos of childhood are special to us not because of the quality of the work, but for what the work reveals. A child’s drawing is a true gift, a generous act simply because they love you and think the gift will make you happy. The motivation underlying the gift is not cutesy kid stuff; it’s quite serious.
When my daughter gave me “The Lord’s Prayer,” it was especially moving because it showed that she’s thinking through her relationship with God in a deep, meaningful way. It doesn’t matter what the words look like, the point is that she spent time in quiet contemplation, prayerfully crafting a beautiful visual expression of her faith.
My boys have a children’s version of the items used during a Mass. They also have child-size priest vestments. Occasionally, they get out the play kit, dress up, and lead a grand procession around the dining room before settling down to sing their alleluias and begin Mass. They jumble most of it. They remember some of it. For a long time, I thought the pretend Mass was just a game, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to see it as another form of something like my daughter’s drawing. The boys play the game because they’re serious about the Mass. They’re exploring it and re-living it in their imaginations because it’s a meaningful part of their lives. They see the priest and want to be like him. They watch people receive communion and want to imitate it. They’re displaying a sincere religious impulse that, as an adult, I should honor. It isn’t childish, what they’re doing, it is mature and worthy of respect.