This past March Steve and I were overjoyed to welcome a baby boy Nathaniel into our lives as our foster son – and hopefully our adopted son in a few months. It has been an adjustment to be a family of three, but overall Nathaniel has been a huge blessing in our lives. Steve and I are becoming better at knowing what Nathaniel wants. We can guess when he wants to eat based on what time of the day it is and how much he has eaten during the previous feeding times. And his cry sounds different when he is hungry versus when he is tired or when he is in pain. For example, when he is hungry, his cry is short to begin with then becomes steadier with waa, waa, waa rhythm.
As I get to know Nathaniel better, I am struck by the simplicity of his desires: his desire to have the basic needs met and to receive attention and love. It doesn’t seem difficult at all to make him feel content. He has the gift of being able to smile profusely, which is contagious and delightful.
The simplicity of Nathaniel’s desires has much to teach me, with my myriad of conflicting desires. On the one hand, I very much want to emulate the apostle Paul, who says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:7-8). Paul’s central desire was to know Christ Jesus, and he considered everything else a loss. I too want to be someone whose main desire is to know and love Christ.
On the other hand, there are other desires in me that sometimes enslave me: my desire to please others, to be needed by others, to be more knowledgeable and more sophisticated, and so on. This lack of simplicity of my desires often makes me overwork and overstretch myself to a degree that is not healthy for me.
I long for the LORD to bless me with the simplicity of my heart’s deepest desire: to be a beloved child of God and to enjoy his presence. But then, how about all the responsibilities of an adult? What does it mean for me to
have the simplicity of a childlike heart when I am supposed to be a responsible and mature adult in this society? Hans Urs von Balthasar, in one of my favorite books, Unless You Become Like This Child, contends that Christian childlikeness and Christian maturity are not in tension with one another. Ironically, attaining to spiritual childhood is a manifestation of Christian maturity.
As I continue my work with the vulnerable youth and children in Kroo Bay, I reflect on what it means to have the simplicity of a child’s desire. There are undoubtedly overwhelming needs in Kroo Bay, and it is easy to get discouraged when what Word Made Flesh can do seems insignificant compared to the vast needs of the Kroo Bay community. But I think being like a child in my mission is to understand that it is God’s mission to reconcile the Kroo Bay community to himself, and that our tasks are to be participants of that mission – Missio Dei. It is to understand that I am not the Savior, but God is. It is to understand what my calling is and be faithful to it, without feeling the need to solve everyone’s problems. These understanding and mindset, I believe, might also illustrate the kind of Christian maturity Balthasar alludes to.
When Nathaniel wakes up from his sleep, he gives me a bright smile that instantly warms my heart. He doesn’t worry or question whether I will feed him, change him or take good care of him. When I wake up in the morning, I would like to ask the LORD to bless me with the simplicity of childlike faith. Just as David prays, I would like to pray this prayer: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
Jennifer Seo Ney was born in Seoul, South Korea. She was raised in a Catholic family and had a personal encounter with Christ when she was 17 years old. She went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. In 2001, she moved to Vancouver and worked as a dental hygienist until she felt called into full-time missions in 2010. She first served in the inner city of Vancouver working with people struggling with drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness. From 2012 to 2017, Jennifer served in the Kroo Bay area of Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown with Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone. During that time, she focused on ministry with vulnerable women and children. She lives in Freetown with her husband, Stephen Ney, and serves as a Field Director of Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone. She enjoys running and reading.