December 3, 2016
I looked at my toddler today, snoozing in his car seat after some errands, and thought what every parent thinks at such times: How does he sleep with his neck at that crazy angle?? And then I also thought, as I frequently do, he’s so precious when he sleeps. He is one of the cutest children ever to walk the face of the earth (parents are to be forgiven for using hyperbole when talking about their children), but he uses his cuteness like a superpower, to confuse and distract people from his naughtiness, because that kid is a stinker. I’ve often said that God gives our toddlers cuteness and naughtiness in proportion to each other, because if they weren’t so cute we’d kill ’em, but if they weren’t so naughty we’d worship them due to their cuteness. God made them cute for their protection and naughty for ours.
But back to the topic at hand: my insane toddler. I watched him snoring softly, his sleeping face resembling the calm innocence of his infancy, and felt some of the tension melt from my shoulders, tension that he had been heaping on me for a full…four hours or so. Man, time goes slow in Toddlerland. The weight of the world in one morning.
Okay fine, not the weight of the world. Just the weight of my altered expectations. Life with a toddler is strange, and rarely goes as planned. He has very specific opinions about what he wants out of life, and those opinions are specifically different than mine. If I am absorbed in some activity, invariably he suddenly and desperately needs something in another room, and then nothing stops him from obtaining my attention, not even his lack of any coherent vocabulary. He comes and whines incessantly to be picked up, then slaps me repeatedly on the back while pointing fiercely in the direction he wants to go like a deranged and cruel jockey atop his weary and long-suffering horse. This has become such an effective maneuver for him that at this rate he may never start talking. He’ll just grow up jockey-slapping people around to get what he wants.
It’s Christmastime, meaning the house is full of exciting decorations he’s pretty sure I put up merely so he could have the pleasure of taking them back down. There are literally always Christmas ornaments on the ground, because one of his joys is to bat exuberantly and furiously at our Christmas tree with a child’s tennis racket, launching ornaments off the tree and occasionally breaking one for good measure.
Occasionally he turns to his four year old brother and clonks him on the head with the same racket, just for the satisfaction of following that act of violence by gently petting and kissing the battered and sobbing brother, causing us all to go “Awww, how sweet.” Then he applauds himself and dances around and then smacks his brother again. And ’round and ’round we go. (Why doesn’t somebody take that racket away from him? is what every single one of you is thinking right now. Believe me, I have. As well as the baseball bat he was using before that. He finds them again. He always finds something. In the absence of any other instruments, he uses his own arm as a club, rendered all the more effective when he’s grasping one or two Matchbox cars, of which we have approximately infinity.)
He whines because he’s hungry but turns his nose up at everything but cookies, weeps when I don’t let him have as many cookies as he wants, then climbs precariously onto the counter to reach the cookies he was denied. He goes to lengths to reach the bottle of Windex so he can spray it on everything his eye can see, and weeps when I take it away. He’s one of those kids that happily screams loud and long just for the joy of hearing his own tyrannical voice.
He is an adorable dictator, whose disposition is much, much sweeter than I’m letting on, but the point is…it’s a relief when he goes to sleep. This is perhaps one of the few universals when it comes to parenting, the relief that comes when a child is in repose. I think there is practically nothing so relaxing to a weary parent as staring at the sleeping, quiet form of their usually rambunctious child.
There are many ways that God has used parenthood to reveal more of what my relationship to him looks like, but today as I stared into the face of my own sleeping
monster toddler, I was struck deeply by the idea that God feels a special tenderness towards me when I rest in him. I thought about how little I’ve rested in recent weeks, and of course I mean that more than just literally. Sleep is lovely, but there is a rest that goes deeper than a good night’s sleep. (Side note: I no longer know what qualifies as a “good night’s sleep.” More than five hours? A night where no one has a nightmare or comes to tell me they’re going to go potty now, or that they failed to go potty in the appropriate place? A night that results in a morning in which I don’t want to smash my phone when it starts beeping at me to wake up? [further side note: my alarm clock doesn’t actually beep, it plays Saint Motel’s Move ’cause I may be a mom but I’m still young(ish) and cool])
It’s fun to talk about our toddlers. They’re adorable and annoying and ridiculous and they provide plenty of material to work with. But it turns out that all of the crazy things my toddler does are in some way mirrored in my life. My heart whines when I don’t get what I want. Sometimes I go to precarious lengths to get it anyway. I want the wrong things, I love others selfishly, I think too often of myself, and I want to jockey-slap my life in the direction I want it to go.
There’s wisdom in giving one’s body proper rest. That wisdom is present in the commandment to honor the Sabbath, a command that is for God’s glory AND our good. But when Jesus says “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” he’s not talking about a nice nap. The 23rd Psalm isn’t about lazing the days away in a hammock in the shade. When God talks about finding our rest in him, he’s talking about a deep and lasting rest, just like the water Jesus offered the woman at the well was a deep and lasting water, the water of life. The rest God gives comes when we give up our fights and the control we want over our lives, and submit to his love and provision.
My toddler literally gives up his fights when he is sleeping. Even better, he allows himself to be carried from one spot to another, no slapping required. He simply rests in my arms, safe and secure and unresistant, and I can move him from the discomfort of his car seat to the comfort of his bed. This is the picture of how my spirit should look before the Lord — calm, peaceful, able to be moved to a better place because I’m not fighting to go my own direction.
I love thinking of God as a father. It can, however, be humbling to think of myself as a child. But I feel such tenderness and such intensity of love for even my naughtiest child (especially when he rests), and it’s overwhelming to think that God’s love for me is like that but purer and deeper and without flaw or variance. His love towards me is perfect, but I have the choice to be the kid that fights or the kid that rests. I’m going to take a note from the pages of my experience with my toddler, which is a small picture of bigger and better truths, and choose to be the kid that rests.