Time to Walk
This weekend we took my daughters to the park. We loaded up the three girls - ages four, two, and zero - into their strollers and pushed them through the park. The girls enjoyed the ride and we looked at the leaves changing color and falling to the ground in God's beautiful creation. It wasn't too long before my oldest daughter announced she wanted to get out and walk.
It was appropriate for us to put her in the stroller for her first trips to the park. We were able to keep her safe and to keep her moving so she could see all the wonders that the park had to offer. Eventually, however, it was time to walk. It was time for her to get out of the stroller and to experience nature for herself. It was time to hear the leaves crunching under her feet, to feel the breeze blowing on her face, to smell the wildflowers growing on the sides of the path, to listen to the crickets chirping in the bushes, to look through the telescope at the birds on the other side of the pond, to pick up rocks and sticks, to feel her muscles exercising and growing stronger, and to truly experience God's creation for herself.
My daughter didn't stay out of the stroller and walk for the entire trip. She would go back and forth between walking and riding. When we encountered a new and unfamiliar terrain, when we needed to pick up the pace beyond her abilities, or when she was growing exhausted and needed to rest, then she needed to go back in the stroller for a time. Each time we go to the park she rides a little less and walks a little more. Someday soon I'm sure she will have grown strong enough and courageous enough to walk on her own for our entire hike.
I had the same experience when I was a child. My dad used to take us on Saturday morning adventures every week. We would spread out a map of the county and mark off the parks we visited each week until we had seen them all. In the beginning, myself and each of my brothers and sister would begin in a stroller or in a baby carrier. But eventually it was time for each of us to get out and walk.
My infant daughter was recently baptized, and I reflected on the responsibility of parents to raise their child in the faith (see Entrusted to You). It's not unlike pushing her in the stroller for her first time in the park. In the beginning, we need to guide her as she grows in the faith, to protect her from false doctrines and to lead her in her exploration of who God is and how God loves her. This is why none of us are baptized into the faith and left alone. We all have parents and godparents or sponsors who will guide us through those initial stages of our relationship with God.
While she initially needs a parent or teacher lead her and guide her into a relationship with God, eventually it is time to get out of the stroller and walk. She must experience faith for herself and make it her own. It's not enough for her to watch the liturgy; she need to experience it and participate in it. It's not enough to hear us pray; she needs to learn the words and pray with us. It's not enough to listen to songs of worship; she need to sing along. It's not enough to learn about justice and mercy; she will need to serve her neighbor. It's only in experiencing God's love for her that she will be able to respond with authentic faith.
She won't develop this kind of faith overnight. It will take many years of riding in the stroller as we introduce her to a new aspect of our faith in God and then getting out of the stroller and walking through that particular experience. Then we'll put her back in the stroller and take her through another experience until she's ready to walk through that one as well.
In fact, I think we all need to get back in the stroller on occasion. There's a reason that God called us as a community, as one People of God, rather than as individuals. Each of us has the opportunity to allow a brother or sister in Christ to introduce us to a new to terrain in our faith, and each of us has some new experience that we may be able to offer to our brothers and sisters.
The mystery of God is greater than any human mind can comprehend. There is always something new to discover, a new experience to explore. Sometimes we need to ride in the stroller and let someone guide us through an unfamiliar experience. While it may be helpful to ride in the stroller as we're being introduced, eventually if it's time to get out of the stroller, grab a walking stick, and hike out on an adventure. It's time to experience this new aspect of faith for ourselves. It's time to dive even deeper into the infinite mystery of our loving God!