Are children more aware of their surroundings than adults? According to Alison Gopnik, author of THE PHILOSOPHICAL BABY, the answer is yes. Lots of research indicates that we adults have a narrow, spotlight of attention. We vividly experience the things we focus on but are remarkably oblivious to everything else. There’s even a term for it: inattentional blindness.
A child’s consciousness is more like a lantern, illuminating everything around it. When her book came out, Alison Gopnik received a lot of fascinating letters about how children see more than adults. A store detective described how he would perch on an upper balcony surveying the shopping floor. The grown ups, including the shoplifters, were so focused on what they were doing, they never noticed him. But the little children, trailing behind their oblivious parents, would glance up and wave.
Children learn as much as they can about the world around them, even if it means they get distracted by a distant airplane in the sky, or a speck of paper on the floor when you’re trying to get them out the door to preschool. Children explore; adults exploit. It seems that sometimes by focusing less, we can actually see more.
The reality around us is far richer than we think. Children are our teachers. A child’s mind is wide open to all that the world has to offer. I was thinking about this recently while working on a sermon. I asked myself, “Will I approach the text with the mindset of an adult or with the mindset and consciousness of a child? Remember: adults use lasers; children use lanterns. Adults focus on one thing; children on many things.
I’m beginning to believe that in studying scripture, we should be like children who leave no stone unturned. Sometimes I’m too adult-like in my study of God’s Word. Adults follow the rules (what they learned in seminary) while children just go where their interest leads them, caring little about rules and pre-determined boundaries.
Now don’t overhear what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that we throw out homiletics and good study methods. No. What I am saying is that we should be more childlike in our openness to the richness of the text we are reading. What colors does the text invoke? What does the biblical setting smell like? What do I hear in the background? How does the passage make me feel? If I could touch and feel anything the passage is describing, what would it be?
Children explore; adults exploit. Remember that the next time you pick up your Bible. By focusing less you actually might see more. Allow yourself to be distracted. Ask the help of the Holy Spirit and let your imagination run wild. Perhaps this is part of what our Lord was suggesting when he said, “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).