Like a Child: Restoring the Awe, Wonder, Joy and Resiliency of the Human Spirit

Explores what Jesus may have meant when he said, "Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Addresses our modern misperceptions about the nature of maturity and the coping mechanisms of adulthood and encourages us to allow the individual self to emerge through the use of 25 spiritual practices.

Rev. Timothy J. Mooney

6 x 9, 160 pp | 978-1-59473-543-1

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By breaking free from our misperceptions about what it means to be an adult, we can reshape our world and become harbingers of grace.

“In our desire to grow up, mature, become adults, we become enamored with who we are supposed to be. When we have finally 'grown up' we realize much of who we really are has been left behind or buried under various masks and roles we play. But the knowledge of who we truly are never leaves us. To reclaim our selfhood, we must grow up again and consciously embrace all that it means to be childlike.”

—from Chapter 12, “It Takes a Long Time to Become Young”

By restoring the childlike ways of humility, trust, awe, wonder, playfulness and more, we can recover a fuller picture of what it means to be human. This unique spiritual resource explores what Jesus may have meant when he said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It addresses our modern misperceptions regarding the nature of maturity and the common coping mechanisms—distrust, guardedness, insecurity, judgmental thinking—we acquire, and feel we require, in adulthood.

Along with the wisdom of ancient and modern spiritual luminaries, this book provides over twenty-five spiritual practices to help us cultivate the childlike ways of attention, self-awareness, joy and resilience in our inner lives as well as in our relationships with others.

“With a scholar’s careful eye and a pastor’s heart ... Tim Mooney employs the insights of art, theology, literature, popular culture and his own winsome humanity to invite us to become the children Jesus meant. This is an important book.”

John Buchanan, editor/publisher, The Christian Century

“Invites us to ... boldly explore the realm of grace.... Equips us with navigational aids in the form of biblical understandings, spiritual practices, and stories from those who’ve undertaken the journey. This book inspires hope ... and faith.”

Susan S. Phillips, PhD, executive director and Christian studies professor, New College Berkeley; author, Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction

“Who of us has not wondered ... why Jesus praised spiritual childhood so much? ... This might be the most intelligent, inspiring and integrated book I have read on the subject. [It] will not give you clich�s or glib answers here, but genuine wisdom.”

Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico 

“Draws on a wide variety of writers from popular psychology to classics and the Bible to illuminate his subject.... Engaging, insightful.”

Publishers Weekly

“[A] jewel of a book. [Helps us] rediscover the ability to give ourselves wholeheartedly to all aspects of life and, even in the dark times, fully embrace joy and wonder as God’s beloved children. What better way to live?”

The Rev. Peter Wallace, Day1 radio host; author, The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically 

“Offers us the vital gift of learning to take ourselves less seriously. [A] delightful exploration of what it really means to bring a childlike trust and joy to daily life.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, author, Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer and other books 

Introduction ix

1 Cowabunga! 1
Resting in Wholehearted Trust
A Heart Checkup 9
An Exercise in Trust 10

2 Humble Me 11
Finding Your True Self in Authentic Humility
I Am ɠ20
Who Are You? 21
A Long, Loving Look at the Real 22

3 A Burning Bush in Every Backyard 23
Restoring Your Capacity for Awe and Wonder
Simply Notice 29
Specifically Notice 29
Things in Themselves 30
Walking Meditation 30

4 The Eyes of Innocence 31
Seeing as God Sees
A Pair of Glasses 39
A Conversation with Your True Self 40

5 The Truth of a Tantrum 41
Discerning the Gifts in Desire and Emotion
Throw a Fit 51
What Do You Want Me to Do for You? 51

6 Change the Way You Think 53
Reclaiming Beginner's Mind
(Old Dogs Thrive on New Tricks!)
A Fist and an Open Hand 63
Meditation 64
Draw What You Feel 64

7 Let It Be and Let It Go 67
Practicing Forgiveness as a Choice and a Gift
What Am I Holding on To? 79
The Log in Our Own Eye 79

8 Fully Embodied, Fully Inspirited 81
Recognizing and Reading Your Body as a Source of Wisdom
Praying with Postures 88
Body Scan 89

9 Laughter and a Sense of Humor 91
Graceճ Daily Dietary Requirement
Think of Something Funny 98
Laughing at Yourself 99

10 Recess! 101
Playing Your Way to Life and Purpose
Go Out and Play! 106
Turn Everything into a Game 107
Contents vii

11 Inside Out, Outside In 109
Living an Undivided Life
Return to Childhood 115
Act Like Youղe a Kid Again 115
Mšbius Strip Meditation 116

12 It Takes a Long Time to Become Young 117
Transforming a Life, Cultivating a Soul
Not Moses, Me 122
A Party of One 123

Notes 125
Suggestions for Further Reading 131


Like a Child: Restoring the Awe, Wonder, Joy and Resiliency of the Human Spirit


What was the inspiration for this book?
Nearly twenty years ago I was searching for a theme for a summer sermon series, and found myself fascinated with the way a little girl at our church was learning to walk and run. Sierra was always off-balance and she treated us to a series of comical and creative ways of falling down. Tears often ensued, but her determination, resiliency and simple joy in learning to walk and run despite the bumps and bruises caused me to wonder about my own life. What was I that passionate and joyful about? Why didn’t I allow myself the freedom to fall or fail on the way to learning something new? Why did it take so long for me to get back on my feet? Jesus’s words came to mind: “Unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The exploration of the possible meanings of this simple statement in a six-week sermon series, and the positive response by the congregation, spurred me to further reflection. What would it mean to become truly childlike? Why are these qualities essential for experiencing the realm of God’s grace? And how are we to cultivate these qualities so many adults—myself included—seem to lack? In my own life, and as a spiritual director and pastor, I began to see how important these qualities are to spiritual health and vitality, and their relevance to people’s lives regardless religious differences.

What is the significance of the subtitle, “Restoring the Awe, Wonder, Joy and Resiliency of the Human Spirit”?
The coming-of-age process tends to bury the unique selfhood of each person under layers of familial, cultural and religious expectations, roles and behaviors. The verb restoring points to my conviction that the cultivation of childlike qualities helps us remove those layers so that our true self and true community might emerge more fully. Restoring also moves us away from the notion of original sin and the self’s need to be saved from this life, and moves us closer to the notion of original blessing and the self’s invitation to live fully in the kingdom of God, which is present here and now in our midst. Awe, wonder, joy and resiliency are human birthrights, available to us even in the midst of life’s difficulties and tragedies.

How have you been changed and challenged by writing this book?
Writing Like a Child has changed my life in wonderful, humbling and unexpected way.! Each chapter invited me to look at the presence or absence of that childlike quality in my own life, and how to cultivate it and actually practice it. Writing the chapter “Reclaiming Beginner’s Mind,” for example, revealed just how often I refused to change my attitude, plans or internal thoughts—to my own detriment! And now that the book is written, I have been pleasantly surprised by how often my own words return to me in real-time situations and experiences. They remind me to find a way to trust myself and life when I’m fearful, to step back and take in the wonder and mystery of someone I have unfairly judged, to open my mind to different possibilities not considered and to get in touch with all of my emotions and desires so I can discern what is the heart of the matter. I have a feeling I will be learning to become childlike for the rest of my life!

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Table of Contents

  • When you look over the chapter titles, which ones are you drawn to? Which ones would you like to avoid?


  • Why do you think Jesus’s encouragement to “change and become like children” has not been explored to any great extent?
  • How do you understand Tim’s comment that spiritual transformation calls for a fundamental resetting of perspective and vision?
  • How does it feel to equate “spiritual maturity” with “childlike qualities”?

Chapter 1

  • What degree of trust do you have in yourself, others and God? What has caused you to not trust yourself, others, life or God? In what areas of your life are you being invited to trust more deeply?
  • How well do you sit in the chair of your life?
  • In what ways are you playing it safe?
  • Where do you sense invitations to be wholehearted?

Chapter 2

  • What messages did you receive growing up about who you could and could not be?
  • What are you discovering about yourself that needs to be lived out in your life?
  • What might it look like to live closer to the truth of who you are?

Chapter 3

  • When was the last time you were filled with awe and wonder? What evoked this experience?
  • What would it mean for you to let all of life be a sacrament?

Chapter 4

  • Through what lens do you typically look at life? Hopeful? Doubtful? Suspicious? Trusting?
  • How has the way others see you affected you?
  • In what ways are you being invited to see yourself and others without judgment?

Chapter 5

  • Bring to mind the last time you became upset. What deep desires or hopes were trying to be expressed in you?
  • What emotions and desires are unacceptable for you to admit or express?
  • How would you respond to Jesus’s question, “What do you want me to do for you?” What does that say about your deepest longings?

Chapter 6

  • What are your favorite routines? What routines of heart and mind feel like ruts?
  • In what arenas of your life are you being invited to cultivate beginner’s mind and reimagine your life?
  • How is your understanding of God and the spiritual life evolving? How is your sense of self changing?

Chapter 7

  • Describe an experience in your own life when you were forgiven. How did it feel? What did you learn?
  • What past grudges and resentments are still active in you? Where do you experience them in your body? How has being unforgiving had an effect on you?
  • What would it mean for you to turn your “rage into light”?
  • How are you being invited to forgive yourself?

Chapter 8

  • Describe the last time your body was fully engaged in an activity. What did it feel like? What did you learn?
  • In what ways do you allow yourself to be embodied?
  • If your body could speak audibly, what would its postures, pains, desires and pleasures say to you?

Chapter 9

  • Recall the last time everyone had a good laugh at your expense. Could you laugh at yourself? Why or why not? What did you learn?
  • What would your life look like if you took yourself less seriously?

Chapter 10

  • What do you make of Tim’s comment that play is serious business?
  • What are your favorite ways to play? What do you get out of playing?
  • How might you turn play into a spiritual practice? How might your spiritual practice become more playful?

Chapter 11

  • What are the differences between your “onstage self” and your “offstage self”?
  • What are the different “selves” in you?
  • What would it mean for you to accept all that you are?
  • What denied part of yourself is hunting you down? How might you embrace that part of you?

Chapter 12

  • What old masks and roles are being stripped away from you? In what ways do they no longer serve you?
  • What sense do you have of your emerging true self? How does it want to be expressed and lived?
  • Which glimpses of yourself as a child reveal something about your true self?
  • What would it mean for you to be more you now than ever before?