A few years ago, the Pastor at the parish where I am employed went to visit the Kindergarten class. They had some questions to ask him; simple but VERY important things that told them all they needed to know about him, such as, "What is your favorite color?" "What is your favorite animal?" "What is your favorite sport?". There were more, of course, but those questions told the children all that was important about Father as a human being. They were relational questions.
You see, the children already loved and respected Father but they wanted to know things about him to which they could relate. It was of IMMENSE importance that they learn about his favorite color, animal, and sport to see if those things were also THEIR favorite things!
Of course, each time Father answered a question, all of the children would pipe up with THEIR favorite things and start telling him all kinds of stories about their own favorite colors, animals (pets!) and sports, and naturally, that required them to expound greatly in detail.
Father, being a very organized sort, had a very difficult time getting a word in edgewise and left that particular class session just a little rumpled in spirit.
I remember him telling me about this and all I could do was laugh at the mental image. "Father, they just want to make sure you know them as well as they know you!"
This is what I've been pondering for so long. Yes, it's clear to anyone that the children wanted him to know them and that they wanted to know more about him. But why?
The answer is simple: Love.
Think about it. This is "Human Nature 101". When we love someone, we want to be known by them. Maybe we already know them or think we do, but it becomes of the utmost importance to also be known. To be recognized. To identify with them on some level. To be loved back.
This is the foundation of friendship. First it is superficial (identifying with another on favorite ie superficial things) and then it goes deeper. Before it can go deeper, though, one must learn about things specific to that person and help that person recognize things that are specific to us as individual human beings.
Because I am an adult employee in a church, and therefore must lead many events and come into contact with many youth volunteers, sometimes I become the focus of a particular need. When one of our youth come to me for direction on a project or offer to work with me, even if I'd rather handle that particular thing alone and delegate them elsewhere, I have learned to let them help in some way. It might be painting a decorative mural for the wall for Vacation Bible School. . It might be asking them to carry this little box of pens (that I could handle myself just fine) to that location. It might be just to be patient and answer their various questions about the simplest or most unrelated things. It might be just to listen and encourage an interest in a particular subject.
In the end, their questions and their tales about themselves and their families (from age 5 or younger on up to teens!) isn't about the event at hand. It is rather a simple request from one human being to another: "Please recognize me. Please love me and let me tell you what I want you to love about me and how God made me!"
What I've noticed especially is that children love to talk. When they have learned to trust adults in their lives, they reveal everything. They latch on to their favorite people and tell them as many tales as they can about everything they know. They try to imitate that adult (or teen, even!). They will reveal their very souls and all this is really just an elaborate way for one human to connect with another. To say, "Please love me as much as I already love you!"
We live in a world of broken families; families that have bourne children, now adults, in need of love that a shattered family simply couldn't provide when it was most necessary in their individual formation.. When a child comes to you and shares their heart, be open to them. Smile, even if you are sad about something. Smile, even if you are angry or stressed out. Take a moment to enjoy the happiness of a child who is expressing that they love you and love you so much they want you to love them, too.
Do the same thing with adults because they, too, are the children they have always been, and they, too, are looking for someone to love them and to know them for who they are as fellow children of God.
As with young children, know when to encourage, know when to correct, know when to discipline. Human relationships can be very complicated, but everything comes down to one simple thing:
Pray for Our Lord to help you discern that answer in union with His Most Sacred and Merciful Heart!