After a long and difficult struggle complete with many a toddler meltdown, my daughter has learned to say please. It took her quite a while to grasp the fact that if she said please she was more likely to get whatever it was she was asking for and that if she didn’t she wasn’t getting it at all. But now, at 15 months old, she knows that please is the word she needs to communicate whatever it is she thinks she needs or wants.
It was great, for the first few days at least. She would sit in her highchair and point at the bananas at the table and cutely say “please?” Or she would come out of her room with her shoes and coat and say, “out please?” It was even funny when in the evening as my husband enjoyed a bowl of ice cream she sat at his feet with doe eyes and said, “please” every time she wanted another bite of daddy’s treat. The novelty of her new manners wore off after a while though when we couldn’t figure out just what she wanted. This confusion, stemming from our incomplete ability to communicate and understand one another, has caused its own share of meltdowns for her and headaches for mom and dad.
Surprising to my girl was the fact that just saying please isn’t always enough to get her what she wants. Sometimes she has to wait until I am done with a task, sometimes I make her help me clean things up first, sometimes, in spite of her cute little please, she may not get what she’s asking for at all. Sometimes, I just don’t know what she wants because she follows me around saying please with no real indication of what she’s asking for.
This morning was no different, please proceeded every new morsel of food that was added to her breakfast tray. I was delighted at her skills in politeness. Until the food stopped but the pleases didn’t. She didn’t indicate what she was asking for, but she did indicate her displeasure at not getting whatever it was she wanted. And when I made her play in her high chair for a few minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen and prepped dinner for this evening, despite all of her, “down please”‘s she was definitely less than satisfied.
It hit me then, in the middle of telling her to hold on for just a few more minutes while I shoved glasses and plates and knives into their respective spots in the kitchen, that we as Christians, and people in general, are quite similar in the way we approach God to ask for things, and the way we react when he doesn’t follow through as we think he should. In our case we learn to pray, to say, “please” we try to be good and follow what it says in the Bible, and in much the same way Lily thinks she has met the requirements for whatever it is she is asking for by saying please, we expect God to answer our prayers in a timely manner and according to what we think we need.
The key to these interactions, and the reason so often they end up frustrating one or more parties, is that we, like my baby girl, still don’t understand just quite how to communicate effectively with God, and we listen even less than we talk. My daughter will sit there for five minutes and say please over and over again or make loud screeching noises when her pleasing has failed and yet, when I attempt to speak to assure her that I hear her and know what she needs, or even that I am not sure what she wants, she will almost immediately tune me out. More often than not she will look to her father and start her pleases on him, hoping to get from him what I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, give to her.
Isn’t that kind of how we treat God? We will ask him for things, a new job, a spouse, a thinner figure, money for this or that, or a miracle for our loved ones, and we will keep pestering him with pleases, eventually getting more and more frantic, but rarely if ever quieting down enough to hear him explain why we can’t have what we think we need, or hear him ask us for more specificity. We think that our prayers, our good deeds, our Bible study, should be enough to sway him to saying yes to us. But we forget that God is not, nor has he ever been, a “yes man”. We get frustrated with him the way Lily gets frustrated with me, and we sometimes even try to scream and cry and beg our way into getting our wish.
And then, when that doesn’t work, we do whatever it is we can think of to go around him to get what we want. We find some other earthly means, someone else to ask, and we attempt to get satisfaction that way. We totally and completely tune God out because he has not offered us the solution or answer we desire.
What surprises me more than any of that though, is how hypocritical we are when God does not follow through as we think he should. I think about how mad Lily gets when she doesn’t get what she wants, how she will go to daddy to try to charm him into giving whatever it is to her, and how if that fails she will throw a tantrum to let every one know just how displeased she is. This is not the shocking part though. We do the same thing to God.
The shocking thing happens when things simmer down a bit. You see my daughter will inevitably come back to me for a hug and a kiss and some play time, she will have forgotten about her disappointment but not about how much mommy loves her and is always up for some fun and cuddles. She might not understand why I don’t let her take knives out of the dishwasher, she will most likely get angry with me for saying no, but she will eventually get over her frustration and move on. We don’t treat God like that though. We keep a tally of all the times he has said no to us in our hearts and minds, and with every little disappointment, or big one, we add to that tally until we reach what we think is the breaking point. All of these tallies sap our so called faith and trust so that when the big one happens; when our marriages fall apart, we lose our jobs, our parents die, or we get sick ourselves, in spite of all our praying and pleasing, our faith dissolves altogether.
Faced with bitter disappointments and the inability to understand why God would say no to our most sincere prayers, we question the reality of him. We question his love for us. We question his ability to care for us.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that in a few years Lily will say something along the lines of, “You just don’t understand me,” or “You’re not even trying to help me,” or “Why can’t you just let me…” or heaven forbid, “I hate you!” But thankfully, in this moment, those thoughts don’t even cross her mind. Her tiny self knows just one thing, mommy loves her and provides her with what she needs. Her anger is short lived, but her love isn’t and she never doubts my love for her. She never questions if I am really her mother because I won’t let her eat dog food out of the dog’s dish. She has faith in me, even when communication breaks down and I appear to have failed her.
What would it be like if we treated God the same way? If we recognized his love for us, the greatness of his fatherhood, and quickly forgot whatever it was that he did to disappoint us? What if, like Lily, we didn’t question the reality of his affection for us, and we trusted him always, no matter how much we wanted whatever we asked for? What if, like Lily, we got over our disappointments and forgot about them quickly and turned back to God for comfort and love and strength?
I think that is part of what the Bible means when it directs us to have faith like a child. Lily, my sweet child, does not question my love for her, or worse the reality of my existence, when her please does not yield the results she wants. I think if we had more childlike faith, we would be able to do much the same when it comes to our own pleases to God, and we wouldn’t question his love for us when he fails to satisfy our wants.
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