I had two reactions as I listened. First, I laughed. Let’s face it, a three-year-old yelling at an inanimate object like it was a person is pretty comical. Like the Lego was actually dragging its feet as my son tried to snap it into place. As if the difficulty he was facing was intentionally caused by a tiny piece of plastic, which willfully disobeyed him. And the little boy was so serious about the whole thing. In his mind it couldn’t have had anything to do with his own clumsiness or lack of coordination—it was that stupid plastic Lego, rebelliously rejecting his muscle movements at every turn!
Second, I had one of those parental moments of retributive satisfaction. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s the moment when the grief they’ve given you is returned upon their head and they’re flabbergasted by the whole thing. There’s something satisfying about the tables that have turned.
What’s that my dear toddler, it irritates you when you try to snap a Lego into place—a simple, routine task—and it rejects your authority? It kicks and screams and refuses to snap into place; it pouts and whines and complains, not knowing what’s really good for it… and that bugs you? What an ungrateful Lego. You provide shelter and valuable play time, and this Lego does nothing but make life difficult? All you ask is that it snap in place from time to time, a small token of gratefulness for all you’ve done for it? What’s that you say, you’re annoyed? You gave simple instructions and the Lego defied you? Steamed? Perplexed? Ready to pull your hair out?
It’s at this moment a hearty parental chuckle rises up, the result of your child receiving a small portion of the grief he perpetually causes you. You’re not really glad he’s upset—you’re just glad he’s having to come face to face with the receiving end of the kind of behavior he continually dishes out. Sweet poetic justice, thanks to an uncooperative inanimate plastic object.
That’s part of life: As we grow older and mature, we learn more and more how our actions affect others. Many times it’s because we’re the recipients of unkindness, selfishness and pettiness, so we begin to understand the consequences of our own self-centered actions. As a parent of three boys, for example, I now realize how much my parents actually put up with, how much of their lives they gave and how much of a pain I often was.
Ultimately I think it cuts deeper than just a funny moment and a dose of parental payback. It reveals how frustrated I can get about my kids. For all the cute, funny or tear inducing things they do, there’s probably 50 instances where they whine, complain, pout, hit, lie or disobey. They can feel like that Lego, which just won’t snap into place. Just sit still. Just stop talking. Just get dressed. Just stop touching your brother. Just stop whining. Just stop doing that.
It’s easy to get irritated, lose my temper or issue some maniacally declarative statement like, “That’s it! No one is ever going to have fun ever again!” It’s the Chevy Chase/Christmas Vacation meltdown, complete with insane laughter, a chainsaw and a crowd of family members to witness it all. It’s at these times a quote comes to mind:
How we handle these covenant children reveals either the pride or humility buried in our hearts; our posture toward children is the ultimate litmus test for whether or not we are willing to live sacrificially (Paedofaith, Lusk, 28).
Ouch. It hit me again today in church as I labored to keep my squirming children in check. Preaching on Matthew 18:1-10, the preacher said, “How we receive these little ones is how we receive Christ and his kingdom.” Talk about a repentance-inducing knife in the proud heart. But they’re so annoying! They won’t listen! They won’t sit still! “Yes,” you can hear the Lord saying, “Sounds like you, actually. But I forgive you 70 times a day. Go and do likewise with them.”
It always amazes me how much God has to teach about grace from Three Feet. As was the case with Jesus’ disciples, humility wasn’t merely a discourse in a classroom or lecture hall. It was a child. You want to be humble? Here, take this kid. That ought to do the trick.