Eli turned six this summer. As a mom, I’ve always thought of sixth birthdays as a major turning point. Somehow five is special. Five means bright, happy little kid. But six? Six is growing up. No more “little kid.” Just “kid.”
When our oldest child, Reya, turned six, I was proud but sad. I remember she drew me a picture of herself the day before her birthday, so I could remember what she looked like when she was five. Of course I remember what she looked like when she was five. She was perfect.
Eli is the youngest of four, and I think even he has picked up on how letting go of “five” means letting go of an era for our family. I’ve seen him processing his own age change. My favorite episode was about a month after his sixth birthday when my mom was visiting. He said to her, “Nana, the five-year-old Eli was the classic Eli.”
This made all of us laugh because it was so cute. Then I stopped laughing because it was much more than cute. It was downright wise. Five-year-old Eli was classic Eli. Five-year-old Eli was the Eli who started reading and writing, whose love of numbers exploded, who started saying “no” to his big brother, who could articulate his thoughts, who charmed strangers with a glance of his eyes, who sat in silence to think, who laughed out loud at funny books, who cried about being the littlest, who wants to be a teacher, a daddy, an explorer and a dentist. Five-year-old Eli was just so “Eli.”
Of course as Eli grows, he will change, and he will discover his “Eli-ness” in new ways. But there will always be those five-year-old traits inside him – numbers, strength, curiosity, sensitivity, humor, beautiful eyes.
We’re always changing and growing, but at our very core there is the person God made us to be, the spark that makes each of us most ourselves. Sometimes the world threatens this person, tries to change it. Sometimes we forget this person, forget our true selves. Sometimes we’ve buried that person under a pile of unrealistic expectations, busy schedules, lame excuses, or mindless, meaningless, meandering pursuits. But he or she is still there, deep down, in our core. He or she is “classic,” the one God created us to be.
I’ve known a few people who have discovered who they are later in life. Not at five or twelve or even thirty – but in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. In fact, I met a woman in her eighties at a retreat who was so excited to tell me, “I just realized today that I can be a saint!” She had just met her classic self.
And then there are people who never find – or at least never accept – their classic selves. They go on pretending, being someone else’s version of themselves. This is not who God made them to be. God keeps loving them, coaxing them, eagerly awaiting the moment he can run to meet them, put a ring on their finger, embrace them and invite them home to celebrate, passionately awaiting the moment he can put them on his shoulders and carry them back to the flock to be warm and safe, willingly and tirelessly searching for them in a field (Mt 13:44) or in the sea (Mt 13:47) – or in a suburb, an office, a living room, or a pew.
Who is the “classic” you? Do you know? Are you looking, along with your Creator, searching for that treasure that is you, that pearl of great price for which God himself would give absolutely anything? Is it trite to say that God knows us better than we know ourselves? Then let us be trite and surrender to the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Let us be found by him, embraced and thrown with joy upon his shoulders, to join the flock and the feast, to be classic, to be ourselves, forever and ever.
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I have a reflection in Magnificat this month (September 2018). It’s called “Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son.” Yes, it’s about Eli. And his camouflage pants.
After 3 years of writing Gospel commentary for Catechist Magazine, I’ve moved over to a sister publication. I have a new column called “The Bible in 5” in Catholic Digest! Every month I cover a Bible-related topic in a snappy list of five. It’s fun to write, and I hope it will be fun and informative to read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!
I have a new book out with Little Rock Scripture Study/Liturgical Press. Advent, Season of Divine Encounter is a 3-session Bible study for Advent that can be used by individuals or groups. You can purchase the book on Amazon, Liturgical Press, or Little Rock Scripture Study. Bulk pricing is available from LP and LRSS.