For instance, recently my 19-month-old son stuck his hand in the toilet and was ready to lick his fingers, until I stopped him. He was as giddy as could be, giving me a big toothy smile. “No,” I told him, “You don’t play in the toilet. That’s icky.” But he was still grinning, ready to dive back in.
Weeks later, I placed him in a toddler swing, buckled him up, and proceeded gently to push him. He liked it for about half a second but began crying, and so I got him out. He then ran away from it.
I probably won’t ever forget that sequence of events: My son wanted that which could make him sick but rejected that which would bring him happiness. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably seen that sequence, too, in some form. Over and over.
I think God gives us situations like that to make us laugh, yes, but also to give us a picture of ourselves. After all, my youngest son is me. And you. Every day. Don’t we regularly want that which brings sickness and death (sin) and reject that which brings joy (God)?
Over and over, the Bible draws parallels between the relationship between parents and their children, and God and His children. When my son wants to drink toilet water and then screams in a swing, I’m getting a tiny view of how God views me – except for the fact that God, no doubt, isn’t laughing when I sin.
Here are three things I think Christian parents can learn about themselves when they see their children do something similar:
1. We, too often, chase after things that will bring only fleeting happiness. Seventeenth-century Puritan Thomas Watson once said “the pleasure of sin is soon gone, but the sting remains.” The Apostle Paul said even believers sometimes end up doing the very thing we hate (Romans 7:15). We know sin won’t bring joy, but we’re attracted to it and fall into it nonetheless. And what about our modern-day infatuation with entertainment and gadgets? Such things aren’t necessarily sinful, and even can be used for good, but they often are huge distractions from eternal matters. How many times have you or I sat on the couch, watching a pointless television program or checking out the latest smartphone app, when we have yet to crack open God’s Word?
2. We, too often, avoid or run away from things that will bring true joy. Someday, probably only a few months from now, my son will have a blast in the swing. And someday, you and I will be in the very presence of the Lord, wondering why we chased after the silly things of life – the stuff that brings a smile for a season, then gets put in the garage, then gets forgotten, then gets put in a yard sale. I don’t go to many yard sales, but I’m grateful for them. They’re a constant reminder – even to the unbeliever – that “stuff” won’t bring lasting happiness, much less joy. We run away from joy when we watch too much TV instead of spending time with our kids. Or when we spend too much time with our hobby instead of time with God. Or when we focus only on ourselves instead of serving others.
3. God truly knows best. We sometimes wonder: God, why can’t I have ______? And why did You ______? I’m sure my son may have been wondering in his little mind, “why is daddy keeping me away from that nice, cool, refreshing water?” Perhaps he even thought, “it’s not hot. It’s cool. What’s the big deal?” His little mind does not yet understand concepts such as bacteria, sickness and diseases. It’s the same with us. Our little minds think we’ll be truly happy if we only get a bigger house, a larger car, a better job. Those things may be in God’s plan. Or they may not be. The point: We were “wired” so that we will be happy only if we live a life pleasing to God, with an eternal focus. But so often we chase after toilet water and run away from the swing. God knows best.
King Solomon had more wealth and wisdom than all the kings of the world (1 Kings 10:23). He had more women, too, with 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11). Yet toward the end of his life, he said the things of the world were “futile” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). His advice for a life full of joy? “Fear God and keep His commands” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He was right.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).
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