Toddlers and our Free Will

In Holland in the early 1600rds remonstrants and counter-remonstrants totally disagreed on the fact of the free will. In a time the ‘elite’ could do whatever they wanted with the lives of the ordinary people, the question if God predestined our lives or we ourselves had a say in it, is a very relevant one. Today almost the opposite is true. “If you really want it, you can get it. You just have to work hard enough” is the new creed. So we ask God to reveal His great plans for our lives so we can go for it.

In the 17e century parents will have taught their children to be obedient and above all not to be ambitious. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (modesty, Romans 12:3), “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Timothy 2:2). In other words: don’t try to stand out. Just do as your family has done for generations. What was good enough for them is good enough for us. And I must say, I have heard this often in the 20th century as well.

But now it is something completely different. If you don’t know what you want, you have a big problem because your life totally depends on your choices and most choices have large consequences. We even have the a new word now: choice stress.

How do we raise our children in this new world? When their lives depend on what they want, on their motivation to be someone, on their self awareness en uniqueness, how do we handle that toddler who says no?

In front of you is a toddler discovering something new and it needs your help with that. In front of you is a child who’s personality becomes more and more clear. Do you want to develop what is in there or do you mainly want to put things in it you think are important?

You can try to put that personality in your mould, but the chances are something gets broken. You can also let this personality develop and adjust that. The latter is much more fun I can tell you, but it is more complicated because each child is different. You will have to discover how each one is wired. Some children like to get clear orders, others react better if they are notified a few minutes in advance that something is expected from them. A third one will do everything you ask if you charm them: “Darling, will you please help mama? You are so good at it.” And to the next one you will have to explain why you want something. To prevent ongoing discussions, from time to time you will probably need them to experience the truth of what you are saying. For example in the winter it is too cold outside without a jacket or in the summer it is too hot with a woolly hat. Your child isn’t trying to be right but is trying to learn something. So give your kid space to discover and to experience. Don’t say “I told you so”, when you see them shiver, but “It is cold isn’t it? Shall we put on your warm coat?”

And then there are those times you and your child really collide. Choose your battles wisely, is my advice. Don’t emphasise everything but think first if it is really that important. For instance holding hands when crossing the street, that is a must, always. If necessary you will carry your screaming and kicking child across if it decides to let go of your hand in the middle of the street, but they will never cross without holding your hand. Discussion here is not an option, neither is experiencing you are right. Brushing your teeth, clipping your nails and washing your hairs ditto. You try to make it as much fun or as less unpleasant as you can, but in the end it has to be done.

You just apply the same principles as when they started to discover the world; think about what is really important to you, what do you really want them to do and not to do. Focus on these things and for the rest give space with clear boundaries. When children get your love and attention they most of the time gladly do what you ask. If the atmosphere in the house is good, you now and then have a collision with your toddler, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t influence your relationship. When the atmosphere in the house isn’t good, you more often have a troublesome child that doesn’t want to listen. This can end up in one big mudfight. If this is the case, radically alter your course and start developing a better relationship with your child. Go play together, go outside together, go read to your child, give it lots and lots of attention and compliments and cuddles and let go of most of the rules for a while. Relax and give your child space to relax. If the relationship with your child is back at the level you are happy with each other again, only then you can try to introduce again a rule you think is very important. Probably this will be a lot easier than before.

As Christians we are sometimes known as people who do not allow anything. You are not allowed to party, to make love, to smoke weed, to have tattoo’s or piercings, to have big bank accounts, big houses and big cars nor to dress expensive – unless you are an American minister on television and/or you belong to the prosperity denomination. In short, you are not allowed to enjoy the good things of the earth because actually it is a valley of tears.

It is not strange that a lot of people react to that with: “no, I don’t want that”, non believers and teenagers who are raised in Christian families alike.

How do we handle this no-saying as church, as one big Christian family?

Let’s start with investing in the mutual relationship. If you don’t have a good relationship with someone, you also don’t have a foundation to ask certain things of someone. We are not talking here about a book of civil law or criminal justice that should be maintained with authority, we are talking about the rules of behaviour between family members.

The law with the blessing and the curse is Old Testament and Old Covenant. It is replaced by something much better, that is the relationship with God. The commandments no longer are on stone tablets but are written in our hearts (Jeremy 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6-13).

This includes a few things that are a must, whether we like it or not. We will have to be reliable, faithful to what we have promised, even if it isn’t that convenient at the moment. We will have to be honest, also towards the tax authorities. We will have to treat the other just like we want to be treated, because that is what loving your neighbour as yourself actually means. And what really is a must is loving God more than anything else. This and the rest of the spirit of the ten commandments are the important things our starter Christians will have to learn.

You can only love someone when you know someone. You can fall in love with a beautiful face of a beautiful body without knowing the person, but that is something completely different than growing a relationship you can build your life on. Nothing is more important than learning starter Christians to have a relationship with God, so they can discover for themselves who He is. And if they discover who God is, they will also discover what He wants. And they discover that He will help them to do His will. So let’s relax and let go of our emphasis on the rules. Let’s limit ourselves to those few things that are really important – and that are not the thing on the outside, but those on the inside. This way there will be more unwinding and more space to find God.

And then it turns out discovering Gods plan for your life -that undoubtedly will be exceedingly abundantly above and beyond, isn’t the most important, but the tiny moments of encounter and recognition are. You experiencing God being near you in a difficult situation, you recognising God in a ‘coincidence’, getting an idea or a thought that you would never have thought of.

Doing every thing by the Book or being a super Christian turns out to be not the highest achievable goal. You discover it isn’t about developing all your God given talents, but about discovering what is possible next. It is fun if you discover there is something more to reach out to, it is sheer pleasure if you see you did it, you got better in it, just because you wanted it and God helped you and not because you had to be someone’s ideal image.

You don’t have to pretend in Gods presence because He exactly knows who you are. He made you isn’t it? And there will be one day you shall know God fully, just as fully as you are known (1 Corinthians 13:12)

That is a day to look forward to.