A few years ago in early fall, we stayed at a wonderful cottage in New Hampshire. Being a natural early bird, I had the pleasure of taking the morning shift when 2-year old Lucy did her rooster imitation, usually a few hours before the other adults in the house were ready to meet the day.
Lucy had recently started to dress herself, and one chilly morning she picked out a tank top and shorts to wear. 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 added a sweater.
I asked her, “Won’t you be cold?” She shook her head.
I said firmly, “You are going to be cold.” She pretended not to hear me.
Now 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].
I opted for choice number two and we went to play and have breakfast. Later I felt her fingers which were like icicles. She was nonplussed, though I did manage to convince her to put her crocs on her equally cold feet.
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?
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 [a striped one was nixed by her as was a 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 in addition to socks. Suddenly the little sundress was appropriate for a brisk New England morning.
Because I loved Lucy, I wanted to prevent her from feeling discomfort or pain. If she had been older, I might have let her experience the consequences of her choices even when they weren’t pleasant. But with a 2-year old, much of what I said was 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.”
Often on that weekend, Lucy would remind me, “I used to be a baby, but now I’m a big girl.” In many ways, she was right. She no longer wore diapers, she didn’t need to be carried, she could dress herself and feed herself.
Since I didn’t want her constantly asking me for help, I was happy to let her make decisions for herself whenever possible. 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.
It was a balanced dance between the two poles of dependence and independence. When would I assert my authority over her and when would I let her exercise her free will? When would I give her autonomy and when would I dictate what needed 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.
There are some similarities between my relationship with Lucy, and God’s relationship to me–and some differences too. I’ve progressed beyond being a spiritual two-year old. I’m less apt to throw tantrums. Most of the time, I don’t accuse Him of not loving me, or blame Him for being too restrictive, or chafe against His discipline. I’m more willing to follow His direction because over the years, I’ve learned He always has my good in mind.
And yet there are still times when I sound like a directive child, telling God how to care for me or what He should do in a situation, as if He has no idea. When He doesn’t answer my requests, I can still whine and complain.
I continue to make bad choices and fail to follow His guidance, just as Lucy ignored my warning not to run too fast down the hill. And just as she came to me for sympathy when she fell, I also turn to God after my willful failures.
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, waiting to love me and comfort me under the shadow of His wings.
As the perfect loving parent, He never gives up on me. He continues to shepherd me so I can become who He created me to be, fruitful and flourishing in the light of His love.
What about you? How has God been shepherding you? Where have you been listening to His direction and where have you been ignoring it?
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! I John 3:1
[edited from the archives]