I’m no expert in child development, but I have had a front-row seat to my share of toddler tantrums lately. Based on my unscientific analysis, I would venture to say there are two categories of tantrums: the clinging kind and the flinging kind. (Of course, in the middle of said tantrum, it feels like the categories are loud or louder; public or more public).
After the tsunami-force winds die down, I try to catch my breath and take stock of what just happened. It seems like my son goes one of two directions in the midst of his big feelings: he either launches himself away from me or glues himself to me. If it’s a flinging tantrum, he squirms out of my reach and throws himself onto the floor. If it’s a clinging tantrum, he wraps his little arms around my neck or leg—all the while sobbing as if to fill a small bathtub.
I’ve been reading the Psalms recently, and I’ve been struck anew by the chord of lament that runs through so many of them. I’ve had my own seasons of lament . . . times of waiting, times when God seemed silent, times when I had to reckon with a “no” to a deeply longed-for prayer.
In my seasons of lament, I confess that at times I’ve responded with a flinging tantrum. I have launched myself out of God’s arms. For reasons that defy logic, I choose a dirty floor over his loving arms. I refuse to bring him my tears, my confusion, my weariness.
I’m so grateful for the Psalms, because there are no verses that say “Thou shalt suck it up” or “Thou shalt get a grip.” Instead, these ancient songs encourage lament . . . when we do so in the context of holding on to our Father.
Faithful lament, I would maintain, is akin to a clinging tantrum. It’s beating our Father’s chest with our fists and letting our tears soak his shirt. It’s grabbing him and holding on for dear life.
The other day I was comforting Graham in the midst of a clinging tantrum. I can’t remember what sparked the meltdown—perhaps all the green bowls were dirty or I insisted he wear pants or I parked the car in his imaginary friend’s spot. At any rate, as I held him, I wiped a tear from his cheek. This resulted in a fresh waterfall. “Put my tear back!” he wailed. “I wanted it there!”
So we sat on the floor of the kitchen, the two of us, as the afternoon sun streamed through the window. At last he let out a ragged sigh and rested his head on my shoulder. I silently wondered what it would be like to do the same with my heavenly Father. No more throwing myself out of his reach. No more demanding that he take away the pain. Just allowing myself to be held by him.
If I’m going to pitch a fit, it might as well be the clinging kind. I want to hold on to him until my prayer is answered . . . or until my tantrum subsides.
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.Frederick Buechner