When we need correction, God’s first response isn’t to withhold Himself or smite us in anger. Instead, He offers love without condition.
by Cameron Lawrence
How do you take a sweet, serene child and turn her into an uncontainable force of nature? Let her turn two.
At least, that’s what neighbor and stranger alike would have had me believe. All felt it their duty to bestow the wisdom of ages upon my wife and me, often with a look of reprimanding pity. “Just wait. You’ll see why they call them the Terrible Twos.” And, as if talking about an incorrigible puppy, “You probably ought to buy a leash.”
Just wait. You’ll see—words meant to motivate by fear the way a dentist might wave around his extraction pliers while telling you to floss. But I couldn’t believe that my girl would behave as predicted. Not least because, if I may say so with zero bias, we gave birth to a child that makes some of my friends’ kids look like Philistines.
It’s been a few months since her second birthday, and I’d be lying if I said buying a leash never crosses my mind. The child has learned the power of “no”—a word I’ve heard so many times it now echoes in my skull the way a siren carries on in the mind long after the fire engine has passed.
“Eat another piece of chicken, sweetheart.”
“Come here, baby. Put your clothes back on.”
“Give daddy back the heirloom vase before Mommy gets home!”
“NO!” she says, followed by screeches of delight and the sound of little feet padding away on wood floors.
Yet, it turns out the twos aren’t so much terrible as they are transformational. A little girl has to grow up—developing in proficiency with regard to language, manners, and obedience. She has to learn who she is, and who God is, how both of those things connect to one another, and what they mean for her place in the wide world. But all of this is expected. What’s unexpected is the degree of transformation it requires of her mother, and perhaps less surprisingly, of me.
I’ve lost count of the moments when lesser responses have occurred in me. Impatient outbursts, a lack of compassion, anger at what couldn’t be helped, and pride where humility belonged: if being a father has made me a better human, it’s by first revealing the worst in me—something I’m learning to see through the eyes of my little girl.
When she stands there, with her long brown hair swept to one side of her large cocoa eyes, she’s looking at me as the first and possibly most lasting impression of God she’ll visibly see in this life. I feel the weight of responsibility. I feel compelled to repent—to strip away the sinful layers that shroud the divine image a daughter needs to see in her daddy.
The other day, she was having a difficult time of it—not listening to what her mom or I had to say. Finally, we had all had enough, and my firm “no” left her crying in the living room.
I could have shouted. I could have yelled at her to stop. But in that moment, I was reminded of the way God deals with me—and with you, for that matter. How, when we need correction, His first response isn’t to withhold Himself or smite us with a cosmic paddle, but to love without condition. Love, after all, is not a reward. When I fail to follow His example, I am more like the unmerciful servant who, forgiven a very large debt, punishes his fellow man for not repaying a few dollars.
My daughter stood there screaming.
I went to her. And rather than give a lecture, I picked her up and held her close for a long while. Silent, I held her there as screaming turned to sobbing, and sobbing to quiet sniffle. And then, peace.
“I love you,” I said.
“No,” she said, and I could tell she meant, I needed to know that.
When eventually I put her down, the tension was gone from her little body. She was changed, having been returned to her sweet self. Love has a way of doing that—for little girls, for you, for me. And the more we give ourselves to the Father’s care, the truer that will become.
Just wait. You’ll see.