When trying to teach our one-year-old about things he is (and is not) allowed to do, we run into a couple problems. One is that, since he can't communicate except in grunts, waves, and "diddle-diddle" baby-talk, it's hard to know how well he understands what we're telling him. If we tell him not to stand on the sofa, does he understand what a "sofa" is? And does he understand what it means to "stand"?
The second problem is that he has not yet developed much impulse control, so if we inundate him with rules to follow, we will be constantly correcting him. There are only so many hours in a day, and we don't want to spend them all saying to him, "We told you not to do that!"
So, as our son is developing understanding and impulse control, we are careful to keep our instructions to him at a simple and minimal level. Most of the "dos and don'ts" we give him divide into two primary categories:
1. Instructions that are for his own benefit/safety. For example, we are strict about not letting him stand on the sofa, or take things out of the trash can, because the first activity could easily result in injury, and the second activity -- well, let's face it -- the trash can is not the most sanitary object in any home!
2. Instructions for the benefit/safety of those around him. For example, we have a diabetic cat, and if he eats "people food," he gets sick. Thus, we are strict about our son not throwing his food on the floor.
There is a third category of "dos and don'ts" which we try not to delve into too deeply:
3. Instructions that are for our own convenience. For example, even though we don't let him get into the trash can, we have never told him that he's not allowed to unload the diaper bag all over the floor. There's nothing in there that's dangerous for him, and while it's a nuisance to repack the bag, we feel that there are more important "dos and don'ts" for him to learn first.
The goal in all of this is to have a set of rules that are not overwhelming for either our one-year-old or us. Are we succeeding? I don't know, and perhaps it'll be a very long time before I do know. But as I thought about all of this, it occurred to me that what we're trying to do is to emulate our Heavenly Father in the way He gives commands to us.
1 John 5:3 says that "His commandments are not burdensome." Doesn't God do for us (perfectly) what we are trying (imperfectly) to do for our son? God's commands are neither burdensome nor self-serving. His commandments to us fall -- for the most part -- into two basic categories: commands that are in our own best interest, and commands that are for the benefit of those around us.
If I can appreciate that my rules for my son are reasonable, wise (hopefully!), and beneficial to our household, can I not trust that God's rules for me are even more reasonable, wise, and beneficial?
Having a six-month old child in the house is very interesting. One of the things that fascinates me is the way he studies us. If he can't see us, he's always turning his head to try to find us (finding Mama is a higher priority than finding Dada, but he does look for both of us). And when he finds us, he watches everything we do.
And he's started mimicking us.
If I blow a raspberry (I call it an "air zerbert"), he tries to mimic the sound (and has become quite successful at the task!). If I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth, he tries to mimic that as well (so far he has been unsuccessful; the closest he comes is to make a smacking sound by sucking his tongue against his upper lip).
He also studies the way we eat, and now that he's taking some solid food, he's quite eager to open his mouth for the spoon.
I realized this morning that I'm recycling myself. I'm taking the ideas, behavior patterns, and attitudes that make up who I am and -- whether I like it or not -- giving them new life in the next generation.
My son won't become a mini-me, and he won't become a mini-Laura; he will be his own person. But so much of his behaviors and ideas will be a recycling of things he sees in both his mama and his dada.
It makes me think pretty carefully about what Paul says in Philippians 4:
If I want my son to develop good and godly qualities in his life, I'd better make them an integral part of my life as well, because whatever I dwell on will get recycled!
And Paul follows up that verse with a bit of recycling:
What about you? What are you recycling to the next generation? I want to be able to say to my son -- and all the other people I come in contact with -- "Whatever you see and hear from me, it's okay to recycle it in your own life!"
It has been interesting, in the last few months, to watch our baby boy develop. One thing that has fascinated me is how drastically his attitude toward us has changed. When he was a newborn, of course, he didn't understand the concept of a person, let alone a parent. If he looked at us, it was with unfocused, unseeing eyes.
Gradually he became able to focus on us, and then, as time went by, he began eagerly looking for us.
Now, at just over five months, he doesn't just look for us; he also is very much aware whether or not we are looking at him.
If we're not paying attention to him, he knows it. Often I'll be playing with him, and he'll be giggling and smiling and laughing, but if I so much as turn my head so I'm not looking at him, he begins to cry. Now, from across the room, he can tell whether or not I'm looking at him, and it matters to him whether or not I see him. What a change that is, in just a few months of development!
It made me think of that verse in Psalms:
The "apple of the eye" is the pupil -- the small opening in the iris that lets light through to the retina. Metaphorically, it means "someone who is highly treasured." But more than that, it could be more literally translated as "the little man in the eye." It's the tiny reflection of yourself that you see in someone's eye when you are looking at them, and they are looking at you.
In other words, when David says, "Keep me as the apple of Your eye," he is asking God to never take His eyes off him.
My son, even as an infant, has already developed the desire for me (and Laura) to "keep him as the apple of our eyes" -- to keep looking at him. I think it's innate -- I think we're born with the hunger to be at the center of someone's attention. Of course, I can't always have my eye on him, and even Laura, who spends much more time with him than I do, can't have her eyes on him all the time.
But I look forward to being able to teach him someday about One of whom it can be said, "He always keeps you as the apple of His eye."
And in the meantime, I need to remember that the "little man in the eye" only appears when two people are looking at each other. So if I'm asking God to keep me as the apple of His eye, I'd better do my part, and not take my eyes off Him.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Saturday night is bath time for our little son. It's a big production, in which both of his parents are involved. Laura draws the bath water and makes sure it's the right temperature, and then I bring the little guy in and set him down into his tub.
Then, while Laura scrubs him, I hold him to make sure he doesn't flop over (a job which is getting easier and easier by the week!).
And how much of the work does our boy do? None. His primary concern in all of this is to kick his little legs as much as possible to see how big a splash he can make, and how wet he can get his mommy.
But he doesn't do any of the cleaning. It occurred to me that we as adults ought to take this to heart when we think of Jesus's words in Matthew 18. Those who enter the kingdom of heaven are not the ones who -- like a grown-up -- got themselves all cleaned up. It is those who -- with no ability of their own to do anything -- relied on the work of God to do the cleaning.
In the Old Testament, after his sin with Bathsheba, David didn't say, "Let me get myself cleaned up, God." Instead, acknowledging his own inability to cleanse his own sin, he said, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Psalms 51:7.
"Do for me what I cannot do for myself."
It's part of the great beauty of the Christian faith, that we are not a fellowship of people who made ourselves clean enough for God; we are helpless children who relied on God to do the cleaning.
Don't ever fool yourself into thinking, "I can do it myself," or "I did it myself!" Always remember the humility with which you came to God, helpless, and unable to clean yourself. The moment we forget about the cross, and the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, the moment we stop coming back to that cross with gratitude and humility, that is the moment we cease to be "like little children," and let pride take over. And when pride takes over, judgment of others is quick to follow.
A Song to Sing:
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
A Verse to Remember:
Last fall my friends Ben and Melissa added a baby to their family. I was excited for the news, and waited impatiently for the day they would invite me to come see the little girl. As we were sitting around chatting, and watching the baby doing baby-ish things (that is to say, not much of anything but make faces and noises). Ben said, "Do you want to hold her?"
I said, "Well, yeah!"
I have to admit, it had been a long time since I'd held a newborn in my arms; most of my friends have passed the age when they're adding children to the family, so opportunities to hold newborns are few and far between for me.
As I cradled her in my arms, I thought, How different this is from the way I hold my nephew who is four years old! This little girl is so fragile compared to him!
And I remembered a word that crops up in the Bible from time to time: gentleness. Colossians 3:12 tells us to clothe ourselves with gentleness (meekness). Galatians 6:1 instructs us that when we confront someone caught in sin, we must do it gently.
And what does that tell us? It tells us that, like newborn babies, human beings are all fragile. Not, in most cases, physically fragile, but spiritually fragile and emotionally fragile. How we treat one another is a reflection of our understanding that, as Psalm 103 says, we are formed from the dust of the earth, and there is nothing more fragile than that.