So! It has been an absolutely ridiculous amount of time since I posted my first post on this blog, but in the meantime I have thought up several posts, forgot them all (but one), jotted down a few more, lost my wordpress login, rediscovered it (thanks to the magic of auto-fill!), and here I am again. We’re currently in the midst — in a drawn-out, never-ending desert of midst — of some financial, vocational, and general all-encompassing struggles in our house, and I’m about to start the fall semester of grad school, but I am determined to see this thing through. On the plus side, our kids (when not melting down in a puddle of toddler-hood on the floor) are amazingly beautiful people. (But that’s another post.)
So…, as the Cat in the Hat said, so, so, so. I’ll show you another good trick that I know.
The idea for this post was one of the first things that really pushed me into needing to write this blog, answering the nagging call to put things out there. And it is something I really need to hear right now. It is something will probably always really need to hear, although I hope I start thinking of it sooner. Or stop ignoring the grace to think of it sooner, that is.
The title is not, as the quotes would indicate, my own words: they were my two-year-old’s. (But then, how many awesome post titles could you get from toddler-quotes?) I suppose I should give him a blog-o-name … wouldn’t want to humiliate him (or get his identity hacked) years from now… so I’ll call him Bear. He is, after all, quite a little bear–precious and fuzzy and fierce.
So, Little Bear had just entered into the charming stage (and it was still at the charming point) of wanting to do everything himself. He was still cute about it, not yet given to wailing like a madman before anyone had realized he WANTED to do the thing you just did out of habit twenty times faster than he ever could. Actually, I think it was the first time (that I noticed) that he stopped me so he could “do it himself.”
I was putting him into his carseat, the pinnacle of all toddler challenges: the everyday familiar but impossibly complicated Five Point Harness. It is “his,” but he has absolutely no control over it. The tiny little growing human person inside suddenly kicks into gear with one emotion/thought: I MUST CONQUER!
Whisking him up into the seat, my hands’ swift, habitual pulling of the straps to find the buckle is suddenly halted by a pint-sized voice of maturity: “No, Mama. I do it myself.” Even the grammatical construction was new for him at the time (sorry, English nerd kicking in here); he had just picked up a few weeks earlier on the various combinations of “my” and “your” and “self” and what they meant, and he was trying them out in sentences. I wasn’t too surprised to find him now trying them out in actions.
I leaned back, taking my hands away from the buckles with the somewhat misty smile of the Mama encountering a moment when she’s not wanted — but all the more amused because it was clear how much I was still needed. After all, even my husband required coaching to figure out this thing, and I don’t think the grandparents ever will. So I sat back, smiling to myself as he fiddled earnestly with the ridiculous buckles, twisting the wrong way and pulling at unhelpful angles. A few minutes of calm, concerted effort later (ah, how I miss those first, innocent days! ;) he sat back, looked up at me again and said, quite matter-of-fact, without a twinge or a sigh: “Ok, Mama, I do it yourself.”
Well, of course I laughed at the time, and found it adorable, and told my husband about it in the dinnertime cuteness-report. But it stuck with me, and I pondered it without even exactly thinking about it, until I suddenly realized the awful truth.
I am a big, spoiled toddler.
Well, not “spoiled” exactly–the verdict isn’t entirely out on me, there’s still time to work things out–but not even quite as well-off as a toddler. At least not the sweet, pre-”terrible” version of toddlerhood that I had just encountered. Because I spend an awful lot of time hearing a lot about how I am a child of God, but not a whole lot of thought on exactly how apt that is. Because I spend (have been spending) most of my life lately shouting, kicking, and screaming, “I’LL DO IT MYSELF!!!”
And getting absolutely nowhere.
Because here’s the thing: this world is one big five-point-harness. It’s ours, we spend all our waking hours in it (sadly, this is almost true in the case of poor Little Bear and his carseat!), it gives us a place to live and move and be safe. But we have absolutely no way of bending it to our will. We can poke and prod, and do things to it on our own–but it’s often a matter of chance if they’re productive things. It’s not our fault, it’s just too complicated; we can’t see the whole picture and we don’t know how things move together for our best benefit.
But God — as another big chunk-of-existence-that’s-way-above-our-heads (this is the point in the sentence at which we usually say, “in His infinite Wisdom,” which means the same thing) — decided to give us this amazing power, this superpower of humanity, which we really don’t know what to do with: free will. And somewhere along the line (I think we might have had a hint from a reptile early on) we picked up the ridiculous notion that because we had the power to choose for our good or evil, therefore we also had the power to make things happen. Good things, specifically; or at least the things we’re after. And so the first thing that occurs to us, when we grow and mature and develop a sense of self — when we mentally, emotionally, spiritually learn the word for “myself” — is to turn it into an imperative, a statement of certainty, of action: “I’ll do it myself!”
And there is our Father, omniscient, omnipotent, and kind, smiling at us as He lifts His hands away from the moments of our lives (to whatever extent He really does), letting us have a go on our own. A little sad, because we are telling him he’s not wanted; a little amused, because he’ll always be so dearly needed. Just waiting for the moment when we’ll learn what children daily learn; what we tend, later, to forget; the greatest lesson existence has for us: how much greater than us is all of existence, all that is good. Goodness, mercy, His providential plans for our lives are so much greater than we can imagine, that we’ll never be able to find them on our own. He must find them, He must move our lives to keep us well and safe and happy.
But Little Bear, in his precious two-year-old language, was not wrong. Because of that absurd wild card, which has thrown off concerted Christians for centuries: free will. Because physically, in point of fact, we are the ones moving our lives. We step this way, or that way, say Hello to one person and walk past another, walk into one building and out of another and determine the course of our existence. We get to choose that.
But the information we have to make the decision with is so ridiculously small, so skewed and piecemeal — like that first fateful choice with the advice of the serpent. How can we ever decide what is best for us? How can we, clumsy-toddler-fingered as we are, ever figure out what choice will lead to this place, which will yield us that opportunity? Which way the belts must twist to meet which buckles?
And the only way to win is to give up, to offer up, to give our lives over to God’s will. As did our Savior on the cross, who put in his most earnest request but knew the reasons he leaned toward that choice were limited. ”Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Lord, I will do it Yourself.
I will make the choice, I will take the steps, for you have given me this wonderful gift; but let it be You who direct them.
For it is only the children who understand the paradox of free will: that it is only worth having when you give it away. That it grows and is strengthened into something even more than the amazing, beautiful thing it was to begin with, when it is surrendered, like a child, to our Father. That this is, for we small things, the only place where good intentions meet good fruit. Our power, our gift, lies in the direction of our intentions; only He can make them bloom.
So today, as everyday, I will try to remind myself to embrace the mad uncertainties of my life with the same sweet equanimity that my two-year-old maintains, and the same cheerful reliance on the love and strength of my parent. I do not need to assert an impossible strength to be a “grown-up,” independent person; I most become that when I recognize the limits of my strength. And, most of all, when I accept the loving care of the strongest One. That is where “my self” meets my good.
My father, I will do it Yourself.