On Being a Child

September 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

As an early bird, I get the pleasure of taking the morning shift when Lucy does her rooster imitation, usually a few hours before the other adults in the house are ready to meet the day. This past weekend we were staying together in a wonderful cottage in New Hampshire. The September weather turned cool and we needed the sun to warm up the day.

In the chilly morning hours, I opted for the layered look but Lucy, who dresses herself now, picked out a tank top and shorts. I found a pair of socks for her which she put on and then took off. A long sleeve shirt ended up with the same fate. I showed her what I was wearing: jeans and socks, a long sleeve shirt over a tee shirt over a tank top. Later on the cooler porch, I add a sweater.

I asked her, “Won’t you be cold?” She wouldn’t budge. Then I said, “You are going to be cold.” But grandparenting is a tricky business, especially when the parents are getting much needed sleep. I quickly considered the cost-benefit ratio between Lucy bursting into a powerful tantrum that would wake up the entire house, and letting her wear only the tank top and shorts [even if it might put me at risk of being considered a negligent caregiver]. Although I can be as stubborn as Lucy, I’m not dumb. I opted for choice number two and we went to play and have breakfast. I felt her fingers and told her they were like icicles. She was nonplussed, though I did manage to convince her to put her crocks on her equally cold feet.

The next morning I got smarter. This time she chose a sundress complete with thin straps and I acquiesced with a shrug. But once we were downstairs and she asked me to tell her a story, I made up one about a little girl named Lucy whose cold fingers wanted her to wear a long sleeve shirt and whose cold toes wanted her to put on socks. Amazingly, the story worked. After some negotiation about which long sleeve shirt to wear [the one with stripes was nixed as was the nice white fleece, but one with little flowers was deemed acceptable], I felt very pleased with my renewed parenting skills. Lucy was even willing to put on leggings along with the socks. Suddenly the little sundress was appropriate for a brisk New England morning.

I found it hard to believe Lucy didn’t mind the cold. Perhaps she didn’t feel how cold her arms and legs were. Perhaps after a hot summer, she didn’t like the feel of clothes on her skin. Perhaps…well who can fathom the mind of a two year old?

Because I love her, I want to prevent her from feeling discomfort or pain. As she gets older, sometimes I’ll let her experience the consequences of her choices even when they aren’t pleasant. But for now much of what I say is designed to help her avoid harm. “Hold my hand when we cross the street.” “Don’t stand up on the chair. You’ll fall over.” “Be careful eating the noodles. They’re hot.”

Lucy is also very independent by nature. “I used to be a baby, but now I’m a big girl,” she said. In many ways, she’s right. She no longer wears diapers, she doesn’t need to be carried, she can dress herself and feed herself. And since I don’t want her constantly asking me for help with every little thing, I’m happy to let her make decisions for herself. During the weekend, I let her decide what she wanted to eat and what she wanted to play with. I let her choose which long sleeve shirt to wear. But she still needed to rely on my wiser judgment about choosing a long sleeve rather than a short sleeve. And I didn’t mind when she needed to hold on to me while she put on her pants.

Dependence and independence. It’s a balanced dance between these two poles. When do I assert my authority over her and when do I let her exercise her free will? When do I give her autonomy and when do I dictate what needs to happen?

Later, Papajack and I played Ping Pong with Lucy. He held her up to the table and showed her how to hold the paddle. When her mother came, Lucy instructed her, “You hold the paddle like this and push away from you.” I smiled as she parroted what she had just heard. She sounded so authoritative, as if she had been playing all her life.

Afterwards, I reflected on the similarities and differences between my relationship with Lucy, and God’s relationship to me. I think I’ve progressed beyond being a spiritual two-year old. I’m less apt to throw tantrums when God doesn’t answer my requests–though I still whine and complain. And at times I sound like a directive child, telling Him how to care for me or what He should do in a situation, as if He has no idea.

But when things don’t work out, I no longer act like a teenager and accuse Him of not loving me or blame Him for being too restrictive or chafe against His discipline. I’ve become more willing to look at what I’m doing wrong. I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry.” I’m more obedient to His direction because I’ve learned He always has my good in mind.

And yet, in other ways, I’ll always be a child with God. I’ll never outgrow my need for His love and provision. I’ll never be all-knowing or all-powerful. I will continue to make bad choices, to ignore His guidance, to do something even when I know it is harmful for me or others. I’ll always need the forgiveness He offers. Just as Lucy ignored my warning not to run too fast down the hill, and then came to me for sympathy when she fell, so I turn to God after my willful failures.

And as the perfect loving parent, He never gives up on me. Sometimes He lets me experience the consequences of my bad decisions, and sometimes He saves me from them. But no matter how petulant or obstinate I behave, He is always there to love me and comfort me when I come to Him. He continues to discipline me and direct me so I can grow into the person I was created to be, fruitful and flourishing in the light of His love and under the shadow of His wings.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
I John 3:1-2

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