I love toddlers. Honestly, it may be my favourite age. Yes, I mean the tantrum-throwing, independent, illogical, ill-informed munchkins between walking and reasonable conversation age, the ones who cause their exhausted parents’ hearts to melt when they stand over their kid’s sleeping adorableness before they head out to clean up the day’s mess.
I love to watch them learn. They are voracious readers of everything and everyone. They crave knowledge and are driven to courageously expand their universe, but at the same time want to remain at the center of it.
As a baby a little girl learns that when she hollers Daddy or Mommy come to her. As a toddler she learns the hard lesson that when Mommy or Daddy call she is supposed to come to them.
It’s not an easy transition for anyone concerned. Toddlers are also discovering free will. Anyone who has tried knows you cannot make a toddler eat, sleep, sit still, keep their clothes on or pee where they are supposed to until they decide to do it themselves. You can cut down their options, you can try to pick them up (doing the floppy noodle) before they dash for the road, but you can’t make them keep the water in the tub or kiss Auntie Bertha or stay out of the Tupperware drawer when company is coming if it is not on their agenda. They will let you know when they have lost patience with your interference.
But I love them. I love the mileage they get out of a few words. I love the excited laughter when they discover how to open, or flush, or unravel something all by themselves. I love the way they imitate older humans and want to be like them. I love them because they are headed somewhere and everyday they change. I love them because they don’t stay toddlers.
It struck me the other day that as new believers in Christ we are like a baby who needs milk, shelter, warmth, affection and our heavenly Father obliges. He provides a baby with everything she needs. She calls; He comes. She knows how the system works.
Then one day he doesn’t come when she calls. He calls and holds out his hands for her to move toward him. After she chooses to toddle to his outstretched arms and she is rewarded with kisses and hugs he takes another step back – then another and another. He is becoming more distant. The next thing you know he is withholding her sippy cup until she sits in the chair nicely – wearing a bib that is not of her choice. What a shock!
The toddler Christian is accustomed to feeling that God is there to fulfill her agenda. Now it turns out he has an agenda of his own. Now there is this obedience issue to cope with. It’s a tough transition to make, and that is why many churches are filled with people who never grow beyond two or three years maturity level. It can be fun, but it can also be a wretchedly frustrating stage of growth because it means taking ourselves out of the center of the universe and putting God there.
The Bible says Jesus learned obedience. He grew in grace and in favour with God the Father and with people. When he laid down his Godhead privileges to experience everything we have he also learned as a human child that he had free will. As an adult he demonstrated that he was not doing the works he did because he was incapable of doing otherwise, but because he chose to. He listened to his Father’s plans. From his baptism, to his following the leading of Holy Spirit into the wilderness, to changing water into wine at his Father’s bidding – and definitely not his mother’s – to his battle with his free will in the Garden of Gethsemane he did nothing he did not choose to do. I believe he understands our struggle because he sweat drops of blood before he could say, “Not my will but Yours.” In the end laying down his life at the cross was his choice.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18)
I’ve heard it said that being part of the family of God means never being led into the wilderness (times away from his felt presence to discover and establish our identity as sons and daughters); it means never seeking God’s agenda but brazenly declaring our own want list; it means never being driven by frustration with our old habits to plumb the depths of his grace that changes us, but instead it presumes on our own definition of “grace” that enables stunted growth and self-centered living.
There is power and provision for a hope that does not disappoint, but this is not it. Of course God still loves to give good gifts to his children and to respond to them. Maturity means changing the way we think until we realize it’s not just about God answering us when and how we want him to; it’s also about us responding to him when he calls.
I love toddlers because unless something has gone horribly wrong, they are people in process. If we, as those growing up in faith, never get out of our strollers, demand ice cream for breakfast and holler every time events do not go according to our desired design and timetable, we will not be loved any less and our needs will still be met, but we will miss the joy of mature relationship with our Father God.
I love toddlers because they teach me to keep growing.