Sunday, July 18, 2010

Maybe I’m Still a Toddler

This morning I sat a little more incognito in a church congregation other than my own. The setting was Washington D.C. The sermon was taught by a toddler. In fact he sat in the pew right in front of me. It’s not that the other speakers weren’t uplifting; I just discovered I could learn a lot from a two-year old.

The beautiful young mother who claimed the boy was doing a marvelous job of keeping his sermon under control. She was patient. Knowing the capability of her boy, it may have been that she didn’t want to take the spotlight away from the other sacrament meeting speakers. In any event, I couldn’t help but notice the dialogue between the two after the boy started with an object lesson. He leaned forward, cocked the trigger, and released his body movement backward where he hit his head on the top edge of the pew.

“Don’t bump your head on the bench,” she whispered calmly, “It will hurt.”

“No,” was his reply.

“Yes,” was hers.


“Yes. It will.” Her voice remained loving and patient.

“No.” I could tell that he wasn’t trying to be defiant; it just came natural without any thought. He liked the “power word” he had discovered not long ago.

“See this wood right here?” his mother said, pointing to the back of the bench.

The boy looked at the bench, and having done what she said, replied, “No.” Then he repeated the backward movement again and hit his head on the bench. It is possible that it really didn’t hurt, and that is why he said no. I have a suspicion, however, that he was having more fun refuting his mother than he was trying to hit his head.

Sometimes I hit my head on the bench repeatedly, convinced it wont hurt that much. Even if it doesn’t – even if pain is not the issue – Father has prepared specific lessons for me, and if I miss what He is trying to teach me, I just keep banging my head on the wall. It’s more frustrating when, after the fact, I realize what I have been doing, especially if I have refused to look behind me at the pew.

Next it was time for the sacrament, but the boy didn’t pause his sermon at all. He proceeded to hold up his toy, and said, “Helihopter.” He then made raspberry sounds with his tongue trying to simulate the sound of a propeller on a helicopter. Looking at his mother, he asked, “Sacament?” The mother nodded her head. His retort was swift as though he had been preparing his talk for months. “I’na go home!” Perhaps he was convinced that she didn’t understand, or maybe he understood that good preachers will sometimes repeat an idea for effect as he himself continued to repeat, “I’na go home,” over and over, using every possible intonation variation he could think of. I think he was more interested in experimenting to see how many different ways he could say the same thing than he was in trying to get his point across. Eventually he was distracted by the bread and water being passed, at least temporarily.

The boy figured out a new way to make noise when the mother informed him, “don’t do that or you’ll have to go out.” It was amazing to see the thought process parade across his face in a matter of seconds before he looked at her and said, “I’na go out.” Remember, two-year-olds understand emphasis more than we give them credit when they can slow down the pronunciation of a key word by two to three times. The word, “out,” was said in just such a way, with his slightly-whining-tone dropping as he lengthened the word.

I couldn’t help but chuckle, mostly because I could relate. There are a lot of things I “wanna” do sometimes, but I can’t – at least not at the moment. Sometimes I whine, too. It isn’t hard to think, “I would rather be anyplace than here,” when things aren’t going the way I want them to. If I could take an easier way out of a difficult situation, I just might. Most of the time, it isn’t even offered to me.

Whether it is my home on earth, or my home in heaven, I know what it feels like to want to go home, too. That may be my most important goal, but I can often be distracted by what I want. If I am distracted too much, I may want to give up and get out. Seldom does that really get me where I need to go. It is simply another distraction that seems to offer relief.

Once the boy found a quiet activity book with familiar colors and shapes, he left his sermon for a time. I don’t think this had the same effect on me as an intermediate rest hymn (which gives us rest from what, I don’t know), but it too came to an end, as did his attention for the book. Next came another object lesson.

The boy walked over to his little baby sister and apparently wanted to hit her, so he did. This, like everything else in his lesson, came in a pattern that he repeated over and over. Whap, whap, whap. Again, similar to his other messages, I don’t think he was as concerned about hurting his sister as he was in wanting to hit her. Why is it that we have a natural tendency to hurt those we love most, usually without meaning to? His mother saw what was happening and placed her hand in front of her daughter, offering her hand as an alternative target. The boy caught on to the game quick and diverted his fire and brimstone toward a more eager participant.

In this case, the boy’s intent wasn’t wrong; it just needed to be redirected. He was chastened and he hardly noticed. More and more I try to look at what I am doing and ask, “What effect is this having on those around me? Am I hurting them without meaning to? How can I redirect my intent to avoid causing pain?” I really take no pleasure in hurting others, especially those I love most. In order to avoid doing this, I have to look through their eyes, which is not always an easy thing.

As the boy’s sermon drew to a close, he gave one more glance at his mother, paused until she was looking directly at him, and then he repeated his head-banging-on-bench statement to sum up his topic. Was he right? Maybe. Was his mother right? Yes. Did the two see eye to eye by the end of the sermon? No, I don’t think so. That may take a few years, or fifty.

The boy obviously hasn’t been introduced to the concept of a dénouement, or he would have recognized that he had the perfect conclusion to his message. Instead, he sat there smiling for a moment (as if to say, “wait for it…”), then suddenly he ruptured into tears. Kablowey! Instant meltdown. The fact of the matter was that HE WAS HUNGRY, and he just barely noticed. Sadly for him, he didn’t have anything to eat. After the closing prayer, the sobbing boy exited the chapel holding his mother’s hand, still missing the lesson. Or did he?

If I find that I have a greater understanding than a toddler and still exhibit the same behavior, can I rightly say that he understands any less than I do. Sometimes I cry when I don’t get what I want. I make up reasons of why my needs are greater than a toddler. And then, when I look through his eyes, I start to understand that we are not that different.

Each time the boy delivered part of his message, I could see that his intent could be taken wrong. He did one thing, but it usually didn’t match his intent. The truth of the matter is that he was just trying to do his best, staying where he should be, right where his mother and his Father wanted him to be. That was part of the lesson intended for him.

When life gets hard, I remember that my Savior has no intention of hurting me. In fact, in His case, he paid a price that I could not pay at all, just so I wouldn’t have to. He offers His hand to me, regardless of whether I take it or divert my fire and brimstone towards Him. I hope I never do that again. His hand gives me great comfort. His intent is to save me. Fortunately for me, He communicated that clearly without confusion when He offered not only His hand, but His life. I am so grateful for the lessons He has taught me. I am grateful for His gift.

Too many times, the lessons I was meant to learn are so obvious. They have been right in front of my nose the entire time. Sometimes, they are seated on a pew rather than a pulpit.

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