“Grow up! Act your age! Start thinking like a grown-up for a change! Quit acting like such a little child!” We’ve all heard these things. Perhaps they’ve been directed toward us from time-to-time in our respective lives. The worst part of hearing this stuff isn’t that it makes us feel bad. Instead, it’s that we actually believe this advice in the first place. Then we internalize these things in our minds, hearts, and souls. Then we become ‘old souls’ well before our time. And not in a good way.
Being the ‘grown up’ all the time starts early in our lives. It can be subtle or overt. Can come on slowly or all at once. Disguised or in our faces. For many, though, it’s sneaky. It often begins as a thin veneer that incrementally covers us as we move through childhood. It subsequently becomes a hardened body cast as we grow older. Not a temporary, plaster one like when we broke our arm or our leg. No. A permanent one. And not even a cast, actually. But a mummification. All wrapped up in gauze and glue. Then covered with hardened concrete that doesn’t come off. So we’re all grown up. And we’re all encased.
The movies Home Alone and Home Alone 2 are family classics. In each film, a young boy, Kevin, is left alone over the Christmas holidays. In the first movie, he’s all alone at home while his family has jetted off to France. In the second movie, he becomes inadvertently abandoned when he gets separated from his family on the wrong plane. He flies to New York City. His family flies to Florida. In both movies, Kevin is ‘home’ alone. On his own. Flying solo. Fending for himself over Christmas.
In each movie, Kevin falls prey to two bad guys. In the first film, these guys are out to burglarize his home. In the second, they’re out to get him. In both movies, Kevin plots to confront these criminals by using elaborate tricks that he’s creatively ‘engineered’. And he does stifle them for a time. But in each film, the two thugs ultimately trap him. And, each time, Kevin is rescued by an adult. In the first movie, Kevin is saved by his neighbor, Old Man Marley. Marley has been dubbed by Kevin’s older brother as the ‘South Bend Shovel Slayer’. The old man is erroneously rumored to have murdered his own family and neighbors years ago with a snow shovel. In the second film, Kevin is rescued by the Pigeon Lady in New York City’s Central Park. The Pigeon Lady spends nearly all of her time reclusively in the park feeding the birds.
Importantly, both Old Man Marley and the Pigeon Lady play the role of Kevin’s ultimate protectors and saviors. Kevin’s parents, on the other hand, have somehow lost track of their child. Not once, but two times. In turn, they play the role of frantic, anxious, and guilt-ridden adults. They spend both movies desperately trying to overcome their own mistakes by getting back to their lost son. And somehow trying to make it right again. But the real ‘star’ of these two movies isn’t Kevin’s parents or the other adults. Not even close. Kevin is the undisputed star. His own role takes center-stage through his many humorous lines, his antics, and his clever ways of getting into and out of trouble.
But, more symbolically, his role matters most for what he offers to the adults in the film– and all of us by extension. For Kevin’s greatest contribution is simply being a child. His innocence. His unanticipated insights. His creative thinking. His genuine openness to the world. His unabashed curiosity. His human connection with others. His ability to reconcile things and people. His ability to heal others. His ability to forgive in a childlike way. And his capacity to impart truth to adults. You know, to the people who have already grown up. An interesting role-reversal, to be sure.
In the first Home Alone movie, Kevin offers healing to a stranger in a church. When he inadvertently sees (and briefly sits with) Old Man Marley in the church pew. In this scene, Kevin-the-child becomes a priest-confessor, of sorts, to Marley. When Marley confides to Kevin that Marley no longer sees his estranged son and his family. That Marley isn’t involved in his granddaughter’s life anymore because of this emotionally tragic riff. That Marley can’t even remember what caused the argument to begin with so many years ago. But the old man never calls his son nonetheless. Because he’s afraid that his son might not answer the phone.
As a result of this estrangement, Marley is feeling deeply alone. And feeling deeply sad. Interestingly enough, Kevin uses his own child-like story of his fear of his home’s dark basement in order to help the old man. In essence, Kevin tells Marley to do what he did. Simply turn on the lights. And he encourages the old man to call his son. To get over his fear about doing so. For if Marley tries to call and it doesn’t work out, at least he’ll know for sure. Then he can move on with his life instead of staying afraid. Out of the mouths of children . . .
In Home Alone 2, the Pigeon Lady invites Kevin to watch a concert from a loft high above Carnegie Hall one night. The lady opens up to Kevin about her losses, her many disappointments and regrets, and the tragic setbacks in her life. She is homeless and lonely. Kevin promises to be her friend if she needs one. At the conclusion of the film, Kevin runs from his hotel to Central Park, where she is feeding the birds. He gives her one of two turtledove ornaments that he has. Kevin does so as a tangible measure of his prior promise to be her friend. He’ll keep the other one, meaning that they’ll each have something to remind themselves of about the other person. He tells the Pigeon Lady, “I won’t forget you. Trust me.” They hug each other. In this touching scene, Kevin offers something far greater than an ornament. He gives himself wholly in friendship to another. He intrinsically knows the thing that matters most of all to her. Out of the mouths of children . . .
And what about the adults in the two films? They’re characterized, for the most part, by anxiety, guilt, distraction, loss, stress, regret, fear, and loneliness to one degree or another. To be fair, some of them do provide Kevin with a measure of safety and protection. But in most every other way, it’s the adults who are the most emotionally needy. It’s the adults who are most lost and alone. Conversely, Kevin is the one supposedly ‘trapped’. But he’s the only one having any real fun. Kevin is the only character having an adventure. Now he is in some danger, to be sure. But he is joyfully finding himself (and some true Christmas holiday meaning) in the process of taking some risks. Creatively thinking outside the box. And purposefully stretching himself along the way.
While risking a tenuous parallel here, here’s a question to consider: how do our lives as spiritual people mirror those of the characters in the films? Christians everywhere celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day. As a people of faith, Christians celebrate and worship Jesus. They focus much of our attention on Christ’s death and resurrection. To a degree, they also focus on Christ’s ministry, his sayings, and his miracles. They don’t, however, focus nearly enough on his birth. They tend to talk about it only around Christmas time. During Advent. And on Christmas day for the most part.
But in the process, too many of us tragically forget the greatest miracle about Jesus. It wasn’t just having God ‘with us’ as Emmanuel. It wasn’t just the healings and the feeding of the thousands. It wasn’t just his calming the tumultuous seas. No. It was that God actually came to us as an Innocent Child, the baby Jesus Christ. Who was born into relative poverty within a damp and dark cave. Long before Christ became the sacred bearer of Good News, hope, wisdom, and revelation, he was first a child. In this sense, then, we all risk celebrating the wrong thing when we turn the focus away from the ‘child in Jesus’.
To be fair, we know very little about Christ’s childhood. For the Bible is largely silent on this score. We do, however, know that Christ got lost as a small boy, separated from his parents one day. Mary and Joseph frantically searched for Jesus, only to find him in the Temple. Where the Christ-child was teaching the elders and adults. Where Jesus was sharing his wisdom, ideas, and insights with them. Sound familiar? While trying to avoid a too-close (and disrespectful) parallel here, Kevin was doing a tiny bit of the same thing in the Home Alone movies, however un-divinely so. Out of the mouths of children . . .
Given this, what if the most important thing about Jesus Christ wasn’t his doing amazing things with bread and fish? Wasn’t about his miracle cures. Or even his awaking people from the dead. But rather that Jesus mattered most by the wonder and adventure of his own ‘inner-child’. Christ cut to the chase in ways that the more ‘mature’ adults around him had long since forgotten to do. He wasn’t afraid to speak up concerning what God had instilled in his heart. Wasn’t afraid to ‘turn on the lights’ in his life or in the lives of others. To think outside of normal, customary ways of thinking. To reinterpret the world for a refreshing change.
Furthermore, Christ’s greatest gift was (and is) the ‘inner-child’ that Jesus wants us to have within. Not to carelessly give away or to discard in our hurry to grow up. Or to move on from as soon as possible. Or to ‘get real’ in life in the spirit of mature adulthood. No. It’s a gift to wondrously cherish: our ‘inner-child’ in our deepest recesses. If we let go of our felt-need for safety, protection, relief from pain, and risk aversion in our respective lives. To become far less fearful and anxious. To relinquish our need for certainty. Or our continuously seeking all the stuff that ‘grown-ups’ are supposed to chase.
If we hold more dearly onto this gift of our ‘inner-child’, we’d anxiously scurry about far less. We’d spend far less time running to catch planes, cabs, and airport limousines. We’d spend far less effort running away to far-flung places in order to get away from it all. Or to frenetically race back ‘home’ to frantically search for someone lost. For the ‘someone lost’ is probably us anyway. We’re the ones left home alone. What we’re desperately trying to find is our innocence. The very innocence that we tragically pushed away so early in our respective lives.
We don’t need adult protection to find this innocence again. We don’t require Old Man Marley to save us with his snow shovel. And we don’t need the Pigeon Lady to call all the birds to our rescue. In the innocent spirit of Kevin in the Home Alone movies, we could eat a lot of ice cream and pizza. We could jump on the bed. Order room service. Watch old movies. Sing loudly and unabashedly at the bathroom sink. Imagine. Explore. Create. Share a turtle dove ornament with a friend. And turn on the lights in the dark, unused basements of our souls.
Perhaps most importantly though, we could bring forth the Baby Jesus in each of us. To let the spirit of his childhood, the very childhood that we know so little about in the Bible, to come into us more fully, freely, and wonderfully. To allow Jesus to graciously ‘gift’ us with a fresh, more fully innocent sense of meaning in our lives. And to get playfully ‘lost’ for a change. Only to be truly found for the first time ever.