Yesterday, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter dumped a bottle of Pyssla all over her bedroom floor.
Before you get grossed out and think “What kind of bodily fluid is that?” hop on over to the IKEA website to see what I’m talking about.
As you can see, Pyssla is a law-of-entropy-loving toddler’s dream come true, presenting a parent’s cleanup nightmare.
Somehow, she got it off her nine-year-old brother’s shelf, carried it to her room, unscrewed the lid, then apparently morphed into a human centrifuge. With pieces still stuck in her hair, she came out of her room, looked up at me in the kitchen and said “Daddy, I had a spill.”
Usually that means she spilled a tiny bit of juice or water. But not this time. Thousands of plastic bits. It looked like Andre the Giant ate 14 boxes of magically delicious Fruit Loops on a cruise ship, in the middle of the Adriatic sea, right before a fierce ‘Nor Easter sent everyone into fits of green-faced nausea.
As patiently as I could, I told her that she needed to clean them up. She said “OK” and dove right in.
I went back to the kitchen and 30 seconds later heard her say “Daddy, I done”, which I knew wasn’t the case but I returned to check on her progress, nonetheless. She might have picked up 50 or so pieces, which, by 50, I mean 5, rounded up to the nearest half-a-hundred.
To help her focus, I suggested she pick up all the pink ones. Another return trip to the kitchen. Another 30 seconds. Another “Daddy, I done.” Another generous estimation, putting the total at 100, though, really, 10.
Then it hit me (like I wasn’t somehow aware of her inferior motor skills and paltry focusing ability to begin with): this job was too much for her. Asking her to pick up the mess she created was the right thing to do. Ultimately, she was responsible for creating it. Her brother would, undoubtedly, come home from school and blame her for breaking into his room, stealing his toys (Daddy, she does this all the time!), and throwing them all over the floor, ruining them forever and displaying absolutely no respect whatsoever for personal property rights (sheesh, elementary age sibling interaction can be so dramatic, and, yes, our kids are all required to articulate private property rights when leveling – or defending against – a stolen toy charge. At present, our daughter is the chief violator by a landslide.)
But back to my point about the gospel. I could have flown into a frenzy, demanding she clean it up, even when she wasn’t capable of completing the required command. I could have said, “Aw, look how cute you are. You tried really hard and were really sincere in your attempt. Even though you didn’t fulfill the requirement of putting the pieces back in the container, you tried really hard, and really meant it so I’ll just subjectively pretend you did it.”
Or I could have done, what I ultimately ended up doing, in a split second, knee jerk response to the spontaneous thought “I have a chance to demonstrate the gospel to my daughter right now.” So I sat down beside her, and told her the job was too big for her, in fact, it was impossible for her, and that I was going to clean up the mess, in its entirety, for her. (I don’t know how to convey this without a hint of pretentious shmuckness so please forgive me if a faint scent of over-spirituality begins to drift in.)
As I was cleaning up the pieces, I explained to her that what daddy was doing for her was similar to what God did for me, specifically, in sending Jesus to keep the Law on my behalf.
Amazingly, her face began to shine, tears welled up in her eyes, and she asked if she could ask Jesus into her heart. TOTALLY kidding, but that would have been an awesome story. Actually, no it wouldn’t have been, as it would mean all the catechising of trusting Jesus’ blood and righteousness alone by hiding in Him, so to speak, as sin-bearer and law-keeper, would be for naught. I would be terrified if my kids asked Jesus into their heart absent any meaningful context, other than feeling spiritual or praying the prayer.
No, it went more like “What’s law-keeper mean, daddy?” followed by complete toddler nonsense “Can you put me in the oven (her pretend little girl one) and cook me?” which always leads to more incoherent little kid “conversations” which are about as easy to follow as a single ping pong ball in the Powerball/Lotto tumbling machine.
I have no idea if she will remember the incident or what I told her. I also have no idea if she will be remotely interested in believing the message of grace found in the reformed, historically redemptive view of the gospel.
What I do know, is that the little exchange helped me see God’s mercy towards me in a new light, which, ultimately, I believe, will make me more thoughtful, patient and loving with my children – even the ones who are perfecting the art of grifting before their third birthday. And, hopefully, it will prove to provide my children with a meaningful and substantive framework with which to approach their faith as they grow older – one which is rooted in the solid foundation of solo fide and not the tumultuous sea of subjective emotions and experiences which are plaguing the church today.