On the Journey: The Folly of Children

Alas, it’s been about three weeks since my last post. Studying graduate-level theology will do that to ya. Let’s move on in Augustine shall we?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 19-21

I was blind to the whirlpool of debasement in which I had been plunged away from the sight of your eyes. For in your eyes, nothing could be more debased than I was then, since I was even troublesome to the people whom I set out to please. –Confessions I.19

When I was a young boy, my mom would often call my sister and me in from playing by a loud whistle. You know the type: forefinger and thumb in the mouth, piercing blow, and heard through the entire neighborhood. When we heard that whistle, we knew it was time to come home.

Dunce

By Unknown engraver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But like all children, I didn’t always obey that whistle. In fact, one evening my mom gave the signal and I left my friend’s house but I didn’t go home. I’m not sure why; there certainly wasn’t any reason that I shouldn’t. I simply did not want to go home, and thought that I would stay out a little longer. I was already late, and I saw my mom outside our house down the street looking for me. I immediately hid behind a bush; like all children, I was real sneaky and not at all obvious. Well, what seemed like an eternity passed, and then I saw my mom ride by on her bike with a look of worry across her face. It was in that moment that I knew I was in big trouble. I’m not sure how long I had stayed out, but I knew it had been far too long.

Well, that was the first time I had ever been grounded. It wouldn’t be the last.

My point here is that as kids, we often think we know best, and so it was with Augustine: like many typical children, he wasn’t the bastion of innocence that many people see kids to be: he lied, he cheated, he got away with things, and when he didn’t, he threw temper tantrums (I.19). Augustine did not fully understand the gifts which he had been given in life.

So it is, except in rare and blessed circumstances, with us. We’ve all experienced selfishness. If there is one thing that we have learned reading Augustine thus far, it is that the saints are all human. They made mistakes, they sinned, they at times turned from God. While this may seem like a depressing reality, it should be one that gives us hope.

We have hope because while we draw breath, we can always turn back towards Him. Even when we carry some of these childish behaviors into adult life, when “commanders and kings may take the place of tutors and schoolmasters, nuts and balls and pet birds may give way to money and estates and servants” (I.19), there is always a hope, and a call, to respond to God’s grace and to embrace love. For if there is one defining characteristic of the saints, it is this: when they fell, when they committed sin, when they were turned in towards themselves, they got back up and turned back towards God, and they never stopped striving to live in His love, no matter how difficult it became. Let us too strive for sainthood and follow in Augustine’s footsteps:

“I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and in His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. My God, in whom is my delight, my glory and my trust, I thank you for your gifts and beg you to preserve and keep them for me. Keep me, too, and so your gifts will grow and reach perfection and I shall be with you myself, for I should not even exist if it were not by your gift.” (I.20)

Questions for reflection:

  1. In what area of my life have I remained selfish, turned inward toward self, rather than outward toward God?
  2. What do I need to do in order to get rid of childish habits (cf. 1 Cor. 13.8-11) and grow more fully in love, both towards God and toward others?

Up next time: we will begin Book II, which goes into more detail regarding Augustine’s younger and teen years. We will go through the next several chapters at a faster pace so as not to get too repetitive, and some of them may be skipped, although the main ideas will still be expressed. That said, even if I don’t post about every chapter, I will be reading them (as should you). Pax.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

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