Much of parenting, then, comes down to the example we set. But there is a deeper lesson to be learned from children, and that is the way of our own spiritual advancement.
Many times, we overcomplicate the spiritual life. We want a sophisticated program, involving perhaps copious study of theology and philosophy. We want to pray many prayers and read many books. But while these things are well and good in their place, they are not the essence of spiritual growth. In reality, the program of spiritual progress is very simple: It is carefully imitating God our Father with childlike simplicity.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” teaches St. Paul, for indeed, that is what we are—children of God. In a very real sense, we can call God, “Abba, Daddy.” By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we share his nature, the fullness of his life lives in our souls. And as his beloved sons and daughters, we should aspire to say, “I’m just like you, Daddy.”
The proud in heart reject this simple way of childlike imitation. They see the spiritual life as involving many complex and difficult requirements, as a way for only the strong, mature, and knowledgeable. They have nothing but scorn for those who follow Christ in simplicity. They forget the words of Christ, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When my little boy looks up with me and says, “I’m just like you, Daddy,” my heart is filled with love and joy. I want him to be like me. What father doesn’t? So to it is with the family of God. God our Father longs for us to be just like him, to radiate his image fully and completely. His fatherly heart greatly desires us to look up at him with love and say, “I’m just like you, Daddy.”
In sum, the Christian life, the Catholic life, is striving after conformity to Jesus Christ, our elder brother in the Divine family. We want to exchange our lives for his, to the point that he lives perfectly in and through us. We must imitate him in every thought, word, and deed, until we can say like St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”