A chunk of my childhood was spent watching the practically-perfect nanny Mary Poppins sing her way through the Banks family’s London home, spreading joy with every note. As a child cheerfully dancing to Mary Poppins I didn’t realize that one day I would also have the honor of being a nanny. Nor did I realize all the lessons God would teach me in the process.
I nanny two babies full time; a 3-year-old girl and a 16-month-old boy, and in these tiny humans, I see myself. Needy, growing, hungry, searching for love and significance, and in desperate need of grace. Though I usually leave work physically and emotionally spent and covered in bits of food, it is with a greater appreciation for God’s steadfast love, tenderness, and unending patience with us.
Taking care of children is almost a moment-by-moment revelation of my spiritual reality as God’s child. And though there are many more, here are three ways I’m prone to act like a spiritual child:
1. We resist what we most need.
Judging from the screams and enormous crocodile tears, one would think I’m taking the 16-month-old for amputation rather than changing his diaper using extra soft wipes.
Sometimes being cleaned feels like torture. Sometimes medicine is refused. Or, sometimes nutrient-rich food is thrown on the floor with demands of cookies and ice cream loudly voiced.
We know the feeling, don’t we? We too fight against spiritual edification because it causes us to act. It’s inconvenient. We like things the way they are, even if it is a bit messy. We’re comfortable here. We know what to expect.
Change is a vulnerable process. It’s uncomfortable, and, if we’re being honest, our thoughts and actions reveal we sometimes doubt we need sanctification. We’d much rather continue to live in our delusion that our current spiritual maturity is the best scenario for us, thank you very much.
But when we resist God’s ways, we’re resisting joy. When we forfeit his teachings, we’re forfeiting our peace. And when we resist his Word, we’re resisting his very heart.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
2. We hate waiting.
Our sin-begotten aversion to what’s ultimately best for us is the soil in which entitlement, discontentment, and impatience grow. And, wow, are we born impatient.
Microwaves produce “instant” food for everyone in the world except, it seems, a one-year-old. To him, putting his food in the microwave might as well be sending it to the moon. It does not matter that his breakfast always arrives in front of him one minute and 30 seconds later. It only matters that he caught a glimpse of the food, it went in the box of delays and dashed dreams, and he must therefore now resign himself to what seems to be a lifetime of starvation.
No matter how old we are, waiting exposes our lack of control and insufficiency. It reveals our desire to sit on God’s throne and gives us a window into our depraved, entitled, sin-sick hearts that crave supremacy and self-sovereignty. Waiting is a sermon of our limitations, designed to lead us beyond ourselves and our circumstances to the limitless God who knows the end from the beginning and purposes every waiting scenario to help us hunger for more of him.
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no one has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)
3. We forget who’s the boss.
The 3-year-old is feisty and hilarious, strong-willed and stubborn. When this little human believes she is sovereign, she resists authority, seeks negotiation instead of obedience, or simply flat-out rejects submission.
For a few weeks it seemed almost a moment-by-moment process where every tantrum and refusal to obey had to be met with a quiet question: “Who is the boss?”
After a few days that question, though never enthusiastically received, began to push a restart button in the heart of the then-2-year-old before me. Her face would typically contort into some sort of defiant frustration, but would soon melt into resignation: “You are,” she would whisper.
“And how are you doing with listening to the boss?”
“Not good,” she would mumble.
“Okay, let’s stop and pray and ask God for grace. We can’t obey without his help.”
While independence is a gift, it must be harnessed for our good and for our eternal joy. If not properly channeled, independence breeds self-sovereignty and leads straight to destruction (Proverbs 14:12).
Recently while reading Leviticus, I noticed the pattern of God sealing every command with, “I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 11:45). It seems we humans have always needed a reminder of who the Boss is.
When we remember our Boss, we stop negotiating terms and conditions and instead embrace obedience, even when it doesn’t make sense, because we know the character of the One orchestrating every detail of this life (Isaiah 46:8-11). For Jesus is not only our Savior, but our Lord to whom we must submit and obey:
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:10)
A Note to Parents and Caretakers
Christ did not give us the law because he hated us but because he loved us and knew our joy would not be complete without submission (John 15:8-11). Likewise, the goal in child rearing is not external excellence or perfected behavior, but eternal joy through heart-regeneration. We fight for their eternal joy by lovingly enforcing boundaries, training our littlest neighbors to trust authority so that one day they may place their trust fully in the Highest Authority.
These precious image bearers of the holy, holy, holy God must know they are loved and secure regardless of actions and behavior––but they must also be graciously reminded who the boss is. Just like us.
This is the time for laying a foundation that has eternal implications. Parents and fellow caretakers, we have an opportunity to point our babies to the Source of all truth, goodness, security, and joy, but we must first take our hearts there, for we can lead no one further than we ourselves have gone.
We are not sufficient for the task, as is God’s wondrous design. For he alone supplies the energy, mercy, and help necessary. Therefore, he alone receives the credit due his holy name. As we care for others, may we be reminded of Christ’s steadfast care for us and our desperate need for it.
May he be exalted and your joy be full.
[Photo Credit: Unsplash]