Children, it turns out, are not programmable. Neither do they bear any semblance to a vending machine: Press button A21 and voila! Out comes a Snickers!
I have to admit there’s something compelling about a vending-machine model for children. Think of the possibilities—you could input helpful phrases like “Yes, Mama!” “Of course, Mama!” “You’re brilliant, Mama!”
At two-going-on-twelve, my little man decidedly does not operate according to preprogrammed instructions. In fact, he relishes the taste of “No!” on his lips. At various times, he has attempted to boycott any combination of the following: diapers, meat, car seats, toothbrushes, and hygiene in general. He has been known to emphasize his point by lying prone on the grocery store floor. He has, on more than one occasion, been observed streaking across the room pantless.
In short, he has a will. And he knows how to assert it.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you the other side of toddlerhood. In recent months, he has also been known to pipe up from the backseat, “Hold mine hand, Mama.” And we hold hands until the light turns green. In the middle of playing with his cars, he will run over to his dad and say, “Kiss right here!” before dashing off to play again. On occasion, in the highest form of love language, he extends a sweaty palm with a goldfish cracker in it. “Here go, Mama!”
Sometimes I look around our world and wonder why God would give us human beings free will. Maybe it’s always been this way, or maybe parenthood has made me squeamish, or maybe social media is the worst kind of magnifying glass, but it seems like we are drowning in selfishness and violence and bad choices and greed and all manner of mayhem. When I pray, I sometimes find myself asking, “Is this really your Plan A, God? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to program us to be a little nicer than we are?”
But then I hear my son’s little voice saying, “Hold mine hand,” and I can see where he’s coming from. Forced love—that’s no kind of love. Forced goodness—that’s no goodness at all. The Father doesn’t just want obedience; he wants our hearts. Even at the expense of our own willfulness.
The psalmist says, “I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). There comes a point when we go to God not just because we’re utterly dependent on him for our next meal, for our very survival. He delights when we finally quiet down from our tantrum long enough to come to him by choice. Not only because we have to, but because we want to.
Just like a toddler.
It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.