They say Twos are Terrible but I thought you did pretty great. You turned three a month ago and if I had to choose only one word for this month it would have to be Showdown. Sweet boy, please give up. As we have discussed every single day, Daddy & I always win, don’t we? And we would just as soon not fight all the time. We want you to be happy, and I wish a dozen times a day lately that your happiness would be attainable in some other way than the constant war we’ve been having.
Yesterday morning I wrote to a trusted older mom asking for some prayer and perspective. I’m just going to copy and paste some of it here: “The last two weeks with Jacob have been the most difficult yet, and yesterday was perhaps the worst of it. I had no idea that you could simultaneously feel confident that you were parenting well and find that your child is completely out of control. I don’t know how better to describe it. His little heart just oozes nastiness all day long. He is mean to Meredith and sometimes crosses the line from playful wrestling to cruelty with his body. The other day I pulled him off her because he was lying against her, pushing her head into the wall with his body. I told him to get off and he stared at me and pushed harder. He probably also said “No,” because that’s the other thing. He is overtly, provocatively rebellious. It is mostly towards me but even towards Mike lately. He yells “No” or “I don’t want to” when we tell him something. He makes these little grunting sounds when we talk to him to express his annoyance. If I tell him “Come here” he ignores me, says “No,” or runs away. If I put him in his room and tell him I will come talk to him when he stops crying he screams even worse and yells “YOU will not close the door!” “I don’t WANT to!” “No Mommy! No!” and then unless I’ve locked him in he opens the door and runs out screaming. Even when we’re not having a confrontation he is displaying selfishness and anger all day long. He yells at his toys when they get messed up or screams in rage if he gets hurt. He throws a fit when I tell him to give Merry’s bike to her instead of using it to pretend his own bike is a tow truck. (“MERRY cannot have her bike!”) Oh, and he never once made it to the potty yesterday, but wet his pants six times.
“But of course all this is punctuated by little moments of sweetness and happy times. (I say that, but honestly yesterday was kind of an exception. It was just yukky all the way.)
“I am praying so much for God to be gracious to us and mostly gracious to Jacob. I am not genuinely worrying because I know life is long, Jacob is little and full of foolishness, I know he belongs to God, and I know he even shows great understanding of that fact in his calm moments, despite how rare they are recently. But I can’t help feeling like we’re doing something wrong somehow… Of course, that’s probably not true either: sin and Satan are a force no matter how faithful we are; and it is not a formula: put in good work, get out good fruit. It is the Holy Spirit. So it’s not like if we could create a perfectly stressless environment and give him the exact amount of love he needs that this behavior would clear up. It’s not like if I could approach him just right he wouldn’t get angry, or if I would always discipline with complete calm and kindness he wouldn’t have learned anger. We are not into behavior modification around here, no matter how much we – well – modify behavior. We know it is always only of secondary importance and the last thing we want to do is teach him to just behave while his heart seethes on and he masters the art of hiding it from us. So we pray with him a lot and we tell him so many stories of wise & foolish builders, of Satan & Jesus being like rival kings, of good fruit growing in our hearts and how we need to weed out yukky fruit, and of how we only have two choices: confess sin or let it grow.
“But he just continues to be angry and rebellious, rude, selfish, disrespectful, stubborn, and we are seeing it grow worse and worse despite all our strengthened efforts. I expect we will come down off this cresting wave within another few days or weeks (or months?) and see the fruit of our labors and the work of the Holy Spirit, but in the meantime I’m starting to be hungry for perspective and advice. Maybe we aren’t doing things right…”
So that’s the story. That’s been the flavor of most of the past month and your mommy is exhausted. I love you to pieces. I find myself praying for you over and over every day. And as I’ve prayed, and as I’ve listened to our favorite new music from Rain for Roots (the only thing more ubiquitous these last two weeks than your tantrums), I’ve come to think about hope. Because all this isn’t the whole story. The whole story is about the kingdom of heaven being like leaven. As the song goes, the woman works, she works, she works the leaven into the bread. But then the work stops and the lyrics change slightly. Oh my children, don’t you worry, she sings, we just have to wait till the time is right. So they wait, they wait, they wait while the dough is rising. And this is what The Storyteller Jesus said: The kingdom of heaven is just like leaven that works to raise up the barley bread. So we wait, we wait, we wait while the kingdom is coming. The kingdom is the leaven and it does the work. We are not doing the leaven’s work. We are just waiting till the time is right. It is growing because its nature is to grow.
Little boy, in your heart are the seeds of the kingdom of heaven. You know it as well as I do. You know your baptism, you know your delight as we walk into church chanting together “I was glad when they said to me ‘Let us go to the house from (your word) the Lord!'” You know that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and yours too, and you love to sing that with me every day. You know about good fruit in our hearts and you pray all by yourself for God to give you His Holy Spirit so you could have that good fruit. And these are the kinds of prayers God delights to hear.
So I hope you don’t think all this battle we’ve been doing is stressing me out. It is just the work we do while we wait, and I know, I know, I know that the kingdom of heaven is going to grow in your heart. Sometimes when I am particularly weary I imagine these battles we’ve been having and I imagine how much worse they’d look, how much less hopeful, if we waited to have them when you were 6 or 8 or 15 years old instead and then I imagine the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that is going to come with the kingdom of heaven in your heart, and I think how your little three year old heart is being positively chased by your parents, chased for the kingdom of heaven. It’s like the Runaway Bunny. For all your running, we will not stop chasing you until you sit down and say “Aw, shucks, I may as well just stay here and be your little bunny.”
In the meantime we will keep grasping at every story, every analogy we can to capture your heart. If nothing else, you’re going to be a good storyteller someday for all the raw material we are feeding you as we discuss for the hundredth time in a day the two options you have: let your sin grow like a weed in your heart until it’s too big and strong for you to control, or confess it. Those are the only two options any of us ever have.
And, in the words that fall off your tongue so easily by constant use, if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And, as you also have come to say like it’s the last in a series of petitions, “And in Jesus Name, Amen.”
I love you, my special boy. Will you be my little bunny?