C.S. LEWIS, KIDS AND PRUNES
Next month is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis – a death that went largely unnoticed because it happened the same day as Kennedy’s assassination. C.S. Lewis is widely considered to be the century’s most well-known Christian author. Although we might not agree with everything he says, we do agree with his attitude toward kids. An attitude that resulted in a lot of letter writing.
Once in a hotel dining room I said, rather too loudly, “I loathe prunes.”
“So do I,” came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table.
Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities. (C.S. Lewis)
This is a quote from an interesting book: C.S. Lewis Letters to Children (edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead).
Most of the letters are about everyday happenings: I never knew a guinea pig that took any notice of humans (they take plenty of one another) and others are deeper. But one thing is clear – C.S. Lewis respected children and felt that their questions should be answered showing that respect.
He said: The child … is neither to be patronized nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man … . We must of course, try to do [children] no harm; we may, under the Omnipotence, sometimes dare to hope that we may do them good. But only such good as involves treating them with respect.
Reading the author’s letters, you understand that he treated children exactly as he said one should. In fact, he felt that answering the letters of children was his God-given duty. When you consider that Lewis was a prolific author and university professor and that he didn’t have a computer to shoot off a quick email – answering (by hand) the scores of letters he received from children (and adults) is admirable.
And that got me thinking about the way we treat children.
Yes, of course, there are times when we need to reprimand, (that’s also our God-given duty), but there are other times we treat our kids with a total lack of respect, rather than the kindness with which we would treat anyone else in our lives.
When’s the last time you labeled your child with something unflattering: clumsy, stupid, slow, fat/skinny? When’s the last time you told him you didn’t have time to go to his game or to help her with her verses or to watch her do her new trick? (Yes, of course there are times when we truly don’t have time to stop what we’re doing – but that doesn’t mean we can’t promise to take the time later on … and then actually do so – giving our child our full attention.)
When’s the last time we brushed off one of her questions or laughed scornfully at what he asked? Doing that is a guarantee he won’t be asking more questions – questions that count.
Lewis wanted kids to know he respected them, he saw them as people and he cared enough to answer their letters. (One American child wrote to him 28 times and he answered them all.)
Paul wrote to the church at Colossae (3:12): Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. I don’t see any words in that verse that would indicate we don’t need to show compassion, kindness and patience toward our children until they turn 18.
C.S. Lewis got that. He understood the importance of treating kids like “real people,” of answering their questions whether they had to do with Narnia or life in general.
We need to “get it” too. We need to treat our kids – our personal kids or the kids we teach in class – as real people with real minds, real thoughts and real questions.
Whether we’re talking about the big questions of life or … about prunes.