In his classic work, “Childhood and Society,” Erik Erikson defined the eight stages of development of a person. For each stage there is a task to be achieved, and the development of a person depends on the positive or negative outcome of the task.
The first stage, infancy, the task is trust versus mistrust.
This primary task becomes the foundation of the other stages of development. As other psychologists, formators, and even our own experiences would tell us, it is not a once-and-for-all task to be achieved, but a repetitious, iterative process.
Some call this the spiral process, repeating or touching on the same issues and tasks, but each time with greater depth, breadth and integration.
Trust is inherent in our human psyche. A child finds security in his mother’s womb and as he makes his way into the world, he continues to entrust himself in the care and protection of primary caregivers. The natural human impulse is to trust and to believe.
We know, though, how a child’s innocence can soon be shattered by an equally innocent “mistake”; for example, telling a precocious five-year-old to keep quiet and not to butt in in the conversation of adults, thus “traumatizing” him into becoming a quiet, reserved boy up to his college years, and only rediscovering his “voice” when he started to work. As I told the family of this boy, what may seem innocent for us adults may actually break and forever wound the young and innocent.
There are also the more evil acts that traumatize and shatter the lives of kids: child abuse, be it emotional, verbal, physical or sexual; neglect and abandonment. These create far deeper wounds and traumas.
Today’s feast of the Santo Niño, the Child Jesus, reminds us of the grace of a childlike trust and faith so strong in our culture and spirituality. Perhaps the two most popular devotions in the country are those to the Santo Niño and to the Blessed Mother. Both, I think and feel, are expressions of an inner predisposition to a childlike faith. This is one of our treasures, I believe, as a people.
Cultivating childlike faith
It is good to reflect on this unique grace of faith, a childlike faith. As Erikson posits, the first task in the “infancy stage” is trust versus mistrust. How do we help develop this basic predisposition to trust? How do we avoid or handle “faith traumas,” whether innocent or “evil?”
I will not claim to be an expert on Erikson’s stages of development; I am as knowledgeable as anybody who reads his work. But let me propose that a key task that integrates the latter stages in Erikson is the discovery of one’s meaning, purpose or mission in life. Perhaps it starts in the identity stage of Erikson and straddles the succeeding stages: intimacy, generativity and ego integrity.
We integrate in our mission. We begin with identity—understanding, knowing who we are—and develop this identity into a deeper sense of not just who we are, but why we are—our mission.
Finding one’s mission
The Gospel for the Feast of the Santo Niño, the story of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, dramatically portrays the moment of the initial glimpse of Christ’s identity and mission. He takes his place among the teachers and tells his parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
One of my former colleagues in the Ateneo de Manila High School used to cite this gospel passage often. Dr. Onofre Pagsanghan, Pagsi to many, used to tell parents and teachers that the Finding in the Temple reminds us that at a certain point we must let go of our children for them to seek and discover what they have to do, what their mission is. They—all of us—at a certain point in our life “must be in my Father’s house.”
However, there is much to do to make the ground fertile for our young people to be able to discover what it is they must do in their Father’s house, so to speak. Here lies the challenge: How do we build communities that nurture people’s trust? How do we recapture the age-old prophecy that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” and how, in the words of St. Paul, do we say to people, especially the youth, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know the hope that belongs to his call?”
Doing one’s share
This year, as I mentioned in last Sunday’s reflection, is a special year for us to witness as Christians, as a Church. It is an election year and we have heard time and again that, more and more, the electorate is composed of the youth. It is a call for us—who have crossed the threshold of youth into adulthood (a polite way of saying “the older ones”)—to involve ourselves in this exercise.
In my work with public schools and communities, there is a growing trust in the government now. Many are willing to help and are actually helping and doing their share. The fight against corruption is far from over, but people are beginning to believe it is possible. The system is far from perfect, but for the first time in a long time we have not only genuine hope, but also real trust that if we do something it could possibly bear fruit.
Thanks to media—one of the great contributions of media—we can see, hear, read, feel, witness the faith of our people. It is faith in the Child Jesus. It is a faith strengthened by our devotion to Our Blessed Mother. It is a faith of processions, devotions and festivities, yes, but it gives many of our people something, someone to trust.
Let this be one of the graces for us to consider this year—to ask that we may contribute to a growing trust again in institutions meant to serve our people.
This is the trust our people show in this God.
As I write this, the memory of a scene in the story “Zorba the Greek” keeps on flashing. When he was asked to explain something, he explained with childlike wisdom, pretty much the same as the wisdom of millions of our people who processed and danced in Quiapo and in the Sinulog.
We can learn much from the wisdom of our people dancing and processing. These are more than festivities and externals. Deep down, this is the trust of a people who have been through tough times and managed to hold on to a God they trust. We can learn from one another. We can trust one another.