My new book, Think Like a Five Year Old, presents the story of creativity: what we had, how we lost it, and how to get it back again. The book tells a lot of stories but underneath it is girded by a theology of creativity. I am highlighting some of the specific biblical passages that tell the story of God’s promise to us for a more creative life in Christ. This is part three. Here’s the first one and the second one.
I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:3
Destin Sandlin is a YouTube educator, an aerospace engineer with a flare for presentation. In this recent video, he explores the idiom that something is “like riding a bike”, implying, of course, that it’s a behavior that once learned is always learned. He asks, can you forget how to ride a bike?
To solve this question, Destin had a bike installed with handlebars that function in reverse. The results are hilarious and instructive.
(h/t to the intrepid Chuck Roberts for this video link.)
Aside from his primary question, what is most fascinating to me is that his 6 year old son was able to achieve in a matter of weeks what took Destin 8 months of grueling practice to learn.
Destin’s experiment suggests that a child’s mind is more elastic than an adult’s mind. What’s the saying? “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Right?
Or can you?
Established life patterns create deep grooves in our behavior.
There are plenty of amazing stories of people achieving great things late in life, like Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, who didn’t publish her first work until the age of 64. Or the people on this list of 100 achievements for 100 ages. Of course, key among the requirements for achieving great things is new learning. Which sounds easy, but apparently isn’t, or more people would do it. Destin’s experiment suggests that there’s a reason for this apparent block. If Destin’s experiment is true, then perhaps what holds us back from creative greatness is not an inability to learn new things as much as it is an inability to unlearn established patterns.
The older we get, the deeper the ruts of our behavior groove into our consciousness. Maybe the better idiom would be, “Younger dogs learn more tricks.” Although that’s not as catchy.
What old pattern would it be good for you to unlearn?
We can’t unlearn our old patterns on our own.
Last week I wrote about the renewing of your mind. The renewing of your mind is both a way forward from your current place of emptiness and consumption, and a return to the beginning. We must reclaim our mind from forces of consumption and destruction. We must unlearn the deep grooves.
But whereas Destin worked his tail off until he could ride his backward bicycle, the kicker to the spiritual life is that the renewing is passive, not active. Left to our own devices, we are inevitably conformed to the negative patterns of the world. In spite of our best efforts, and sometimes we make them herculean, we can’t unlearn selfishness, negativity, fear, and the desire for comfort – all forces that keep us on the couch and away from the creative bench – on our own. This unlearning, this renewal, is not something we achieve, but something that is accomplished in us by God’s Holy Spirit as we follow Christ.
After all, it was Jesus who first told us to think more like a five year old, to like Destin’s son to be more elastic. What does that mean?
Unlearning begins with reclaiming childlike wonder.
God is often portrayed as a cosmic buzzkill, but his design in the garden and consistently throughout scripture (for example, see John 10:10) is for us to experience a life of joy, like we see in that of a young child. God wants us to be in playful relationship with Him. We had this freedom and these gifts from the start, but we have lost them.
Jesus invites us to reclaim the wonder that came naturally to us when we were children. But don’t underestimate this or blow this directive off— it is more that just an invitation to playfulness or finding your inner child.
Thinking like a child means acting on playful courage.
Our current malaise is characterized by inertia. We feel stuck; we do nothing.
Having faith, as Romans 12:1-2 says, means taking action, not just intellectual assent but real world boots-on-ground movement: to actually do something as a result. That something is to become more like a child. The way to do it is to recapture a child’s creative bravery. What does that look like?
In Think Like a Five Year Old, I wrote:
In a family of people in touch with creativity, my eldest daughter may lead the way. She is fearless and given any sort of blank canvas will immediately begin creating. While in a summer musical theater camp before her sixth-grade year, she volunteered to do some set pieces. She brought home some paints and commandeered the space where my truck parks. She spread out a massive cardboard wall and, with her younger sister, painted it white and added in a house with windows, signs, flowers, and so on. She made an entire scene, without sketching it out first or worrying that she had no backup paint or second massive piece of cardboard should she screw up. She didn’t even know that what she was doing was an act of bravery. She just wanted to draw.
Action doesn’t come after research and reflection; it comes first. One way in which we can learn how to think like a child is to just act. Be fearless.
Learning how to think like a child is a radical turning.
As Destin learned with his backward bicycle, the grooves of our established behaviors are deep. Changing them is a radical job. It’s not just as a person moving their body a different direction, but more like a flower turning toward the sun, away from the jaded shadows of cynicism and loss. The biblical word used here reflects the Jewish concept of repentance. It’s a radical turning from the way we have been.
Recovering creativity often requires a radical turning, as well. As I wrote last week, well known artists such as Bob Dylan have at some point in their careers had to make a radical turn from the old ways of doing things. And, it bears mentioning again, this turning isn’t something we do on our own; it comes when we decide to follow Christ.
Take risks toward your passions.
The process of unlearning your current life begins with taking a risk toward your passions. It’s in the action of making something that we rediscover the power of a child’s elasticity. (More on this later.)
And what’s at stake here? Our very lives. If we’re not careful, we can sit on the couch of our dreams, stuck in our deep behavioral grooves, for the rest of our lives. Jesus tells us there’s a better way, but we must take action. As the scripture says, if we fail to capture the importance of becoming like a child, we won’t just not enter the kingdom of heaven. Without this type of unlearning, of deep turning back toward childhood, we definitely won’t enter the kingdom of heaven.
Next week we’ll explore the first thing you have to do.
This article first appeared at lenwilson.us.