Updated: Sep 23
I’ve been spending most of my time for two weeks with a seventeen-month old girl I call Gen. From memories of my own children, I have some nostalgia for this “delightful” age. I also remember when my kids were 3-months and 18-months old, my husband took a two-week business trip. He expected joy when he returned but I greeted him with resentment. Unreasonable of me, of course, but an indicator of how difficult I found those two weeks.
This piece is a meditation on lessons learned caring for my toddler grandchild. I’m dedicating it to the faithful, long-suffering moms and dads of small children, infants and toddlers. I salute you. I stole away from family life to pen this. Overhead (I'm in the basement), I can hear Gen wailing. She’s going through something these past few days. Last week she was cheerful, determined, and philosophical. This week she’s “fractious” as her dad says - quick to frustrate, throwing food around and inconsolable at times. Is she sick? Is she teething? Is she going through a phase?
Such is toddler-hood. But, I’m not writing to complain. I’m writing to tell you my own consolations in the midst of the enlightening, perplexing, exhausting, sometimes boring hours of time spent with Gen.
One great thing about toddlers is that they induce play. I make faces and strange sounds, sing freely, read stories with drama, gesture, dance, crawl on the floor, build structures with magnet tiles and act as much like a child as I can.
What’s hard is policing toddlers. Preventing mayhem to themselves or property.
What’s intriguing is wondering if God views His children much as I view Gen. I wonder if when Jesus says, “You must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven,” He’s thinking, “in fact, you ARE children when it comes to spiritual things, and once you recognize it, and cooperate with the process of growing from babyhood, you will truly enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
I begin to see God as the wrangler of billions of toddlers, running amok on planet earth all at once. Omnipresence and omniscience are huge assets to such a parent, to ANY parent of toddlers. But, billions of toddlers! Imagine what that’s like!
I also get a sense of the extent of God’s patience. I bet it’s not just a long-suffering sort of “when will this be over”, clock-watching patience. Maybe God takes joy in the repetitions of toddlerhood - up the stairs and down the slide, build the tower and knock it down, hide and peek-a-boo over and over again. And I learn to also.
Maybe when I pray the Lord’s prayer over and over, God is not long-suffering, but delighted each and every time, just as He loves sunrises and sunsets, cloud-formation and rain, a billion butterflies forming in crysalises and taking wing in the world over and over again. God must love repetition. God invites repetition in learning His Word - that gateway to the kingdom. The Psalms have a lot to say about this. A couple of snippets here: “Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous ordinances." (Ps 119:164 NASB) And "His delight is in the law of the Lord. And in His law he meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:2 NASB)
In addition to repetition, imitation is a feature of childhood, and an entry point to the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes with Gen, her imitation delights me. When she pulls a shirt out of the laundry basket and plops it on her head, grinning. When she walks around with it draped around her neck. When she puts her foot into Mama’s sandal. When she pushes a tiny broom around on the floor. Sometimes, her imitation makes work. When she yanks open the dishwasher and pulls out plates and silverware or unlatches the front door and runs out.
Gen is learning the language of earth by repetition. She repeats "hat", "blue", and "yellow" from the book "Blue Hat, Green Hat". She growls like a bear or ribbits like a frog in "Brown Bear, Brown Bear". She copies the word “bible” or “monkey” or howls like a wolf. I’m convinced that Gen calls me grandma. It’s true that it’s a little hard to distinguish her “maamah” from “mama” or her all purpose word “more” which translates as “gimme some”. You hear her mind absorbing language as she imitates what I say.
So also, when I imitate God’s word, I’m learning the language of the kingdom of heaven. And I’m imitating Jesus too. He said, “The things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” John 12:50 NASB, perplexing but intriguing words from a divine sort of Son. Again, the Lord's Prayer on my lips is imitation of Jesus. It is a prayer for all seasons and circumstances. Reading God's Word over and over embeds it in my brain and heart, and provides the language for prayer and speaking God's wisdom.
Imitation may seem weak and childish, not for adults. What about originality? But, Jesus says, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” John 5:19 NASB
I don’t claim to understand all this. But, it’s worth meditating on. When I’m most tired and frustrated with Gen’s antics, I remind myself, “God loves this!” I truly believe God does. Why else have childhood, even toddler-hood last SO LONG?
To all the parents of small children that I know, I offer this blessing. May God give you His patience and delight with your little ones. May He give you respite and rest along the way. And may He give you joyful insights into your own spiritual journey with Him.