During my recent trip to San Diego, I had a chance to tour the U.S.S Midway, a Navy aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1992. My husband and I, like the good nerds that we are, took the audio tour, listening to the informational tidbits as we wandered around the enormous (really, enormous) ship.
The thing is, it wasn’t my first trip to a military museum. Years ago, I went to see the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Boston. Wasn’t my first America history experience, either. I’ve seen the Liberty Bell up close. I visited Faneuil Hall and multiple sites on the U.S. Freedom Trail. I’ve visited Monticello twice.
Here’s the kicker: I can barely remember a thing about any of those visits.
Why? Well, I was school-age, for starters. And when you’re school-age, American history – or museums, or learning experiences – are the last thing in the world you care about. Rather, you care about whether Katie is your best friend today. You care about who will or will not sit with you at lunch. You care about getting motion sickness on the bus in front of everyone. You care about everything except what’s right in front of you – and most of all, you care about caring too much.
Because caring too much isn’t cool.
I saw it in the teenagers around me at the Midway exhibit, gazing down into their phones and refusing the audio tour because the headphones looked dorky. (“Mom, please,” one girl whispered, humiliated, pushing them away as I strolled past). I saw it in the teenage boy who fled from the military man in one of the exhibits who offered him the chance to try on a serviceman’s hat. I saw it in the groups who refused to participate in the tour or engage with the friendly service people there (because, in the words of one boy, it “would have been lame”), choosing instead to wander around the hangar in tiny clumps sipping soda and pretending they were getting the entire experience.
And I can hardly blame school-age kids for it when it plagues adults, too. So many adults are afraid of trying too hard, of looking like they care too much, of being too earnest, too eager. I see you, fans in the stadiums who flee from waving at a mascot, or smiling at a camera, or actually cheering out loud because it would destroy your carefully-crafted image with your friends. I see you, dear friends, who are wearing 2,032 layers of makeup to achieve the careful “I don’t care and I’m not trying” just-woke-up look. I see you with your mismatched clothes that you carefully “just happened to pick out without looking, because, you know, whatever, man.” I see you, TV-watchers who totally only watch that show ironically because you would never, you know, like a show like that for real.
I’m not exempt from it either. None of us are. We live in a world of artifice, where more often than not genuine enthusiasm and passion for something – for anything! – can be interpreted as caring too much, as trying too hard, as not being critical/cynical/skeptical enough. Our culture maintains a healthy scorn for those it deems to be enjoying themselves too much, for those who are unashamed to be seen caring deeply about something (even and especially when the something is small). It’s not “cool.” It points to a sweet and naive sort of spirit. A childlike spirit.
Because kids are the antidote to this sort of attitude. Little kids. They don’t have it in them to avoid sincerity. They mean everything with their whole heart. And they’re not ashamed to care too much or be too invested in something, even when it’s simple or small. When I was on my return flight, the little girl next to me two aisles up couldn’t handle the wonder of it: “Mommy,” she kept saying, “we are off the ground. We’re in the sky!” All around her, adults glanced over and then returned to their Kindles, too self-aware and jaded by half to be awed by the wonder of what it means to fly.
It was little kids grinning all over the U.S.S. Midway, yelling about the size of the planes and trying on sailor hats and peppering the servicemen with questions (“Could the sailors swim?” “What if there was fire on the boat?” “Can we drive the boat?”) It’s little kids who dance unashamedly with mascots in front of the camera at athletic events. It’s little kids who proudly wear shirts with smiling faces and dancing bears and without the slightest hint of irony.
And recognizing all of this made me think back to Matthew 18:3, and Christ’s exhortation for believers to “become like little children.” There’s so much to unpack in that verse, and it is certainly a call to simple faith, humility, and service. But I believe it’s also a call to the sort of childlike open-heartedness and unashamed sincerity that we tend to abandon as soon as we hit school age and start caring what everyone thinks of us.
Because doesn’t Christianity demand that? We believe in a happily-ever-after. We believe we’ll see our lost loved ones again. We believe in a God who descended and spent time with us incarnate as a man, then permitted Himself to be crucified and who was resurrected just so that He could spend forever with us. We are to give thanksgiving and praise in trials, to count living as Christ and dying as gain, to offer up everything we have cheerfully, to repay malice with grace and destruction with kindness.
Christians care. We’re meant to care – far more than what the world deems as wise or useful. We’re meant to invest in and serve those around us, to engage, to connect. A sincere and enthusiastic heart, along with a willingness to feel and participate in life wholeheartedly, goes a long way toward setting us apart from the rest of the world. And you’d be surprised how contagious it is.
As a believer, don’t be wary of caring too much. As far as the world is concerned and Jesus is concerned, you can never care enough. Be joyfully open-hearted, sincere, enthusiastic, and committed to all that you do. People will notice.