Today, Mark decided that his dirty diaper was his new favorite toy. After a diaper change, he swooped it up and “sprinted” across the room with it before we even realized what he was holding. Slightly mortified, we asked Mark to please hand us the diaper. To this he responded with a firm “no,” and then walked away to play with a few toys.
We are moving into that fun stage of parenting when a tiny increasingly independent human is now parading around our house. He deliberately runs away when we tell him it’s time to change his diaper or take a nap, and sometimes turns his face away when asked for a goodnight kiss. It is a frustrating phase that I suspect will last until he is at least 18.
I imagine that God can relate to this. He is, after all, a Father. He watches as we continually make poor choices and run away from him. He asks us to come home, but we respond with a firm “no,” and continue doing whatever we want. He watches us do this over and over, yet rather than being angry and giving up on us, he continues to forgive, always welcoming us home time and time again. I should definitely take a page out of his parenting playbook.
Both scripture and the lives of the saints are speckled with examples of rebellious kids and loving parents. In Luke 15, we learn about the prodigal son who spends his entire inheritance and eventually returns home hungry and apologetic. His father welcomes the lost son with open arms. St. Augustine was a rebellious adolescent who caused his mother, St. Monica, much heartache. It is no doubt through the grace of God and her constant prayer for so many years that he eventually converted and left a significant stamp on Catholic theology.
Each of these stories reiterates the importance of a parent’s patience and persistence in prayer during the challenging moments of parenthood. Admittedly, Mark’s diaper snatching seems pretty trivial when you consider what the prodigal son and St. Augustine put their parents through. It certainly helps to put things in perspective when I get frustrated by one of Mark’s small rebellions.
However, I will be the first to admit that those tiny rebellions can be exhausting! I take comfort knowing that St. Monica found the strength to continually pray for her son for 17 years before he converted! If she can do that, then I can certainly handle a measly tantrum or mess.
Despite the crazy things that kids do sometimes, we are still called to have a child-like faith. Jesus even stated in Matthew 19:14, “…unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What did Jesus mean by this? Should we all throw tantrums and run around with a dirty diaper?
This afternoon I asked my son to point to his dad. He promptly looked straight at my husband, stuck his little finger out and poked him in the shoulder. “Dada,” he said with a huge grin on his face.
That little grin said it all. Mark loves “dada” with his whole heart.
That is what Jesus meant when he said we should “become like children.” We are called to have that same unwavering devotion to our Heavenly Father.
It is parenting moments like this that remind me why we jumped on the roller coaster of parenthood in the first place. One of the lessons I’ve learned lately is that perhaps it is not us who are teaching Mark how to behave, but rather Mark teaching us how to live faithfully.