Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Terrible Twos

Hosea 11:1-11
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

“Back when I watched two-year-olds acting up in public, I was determined that my children would never act that way … then I became a parent.”  Every Parent

It has been said that the only reason parents survive the “terrible twos” is because toddlers are not strong enough to kill with their bare hands and are not capable of handling lethal weapons!  Toddlers possess a natural strength, however, that leaves many parents – maybe most, probably all – questioning their own sanity when they once thought having kids would be a great idea.  It is the strongest sense of irony that we spend two years teaching them to talk, spend the next twelve years wishing for a little peace and quiet, and then perhaps the next couple of years praying they will open up once again.

We know, of course, being a parent brings our greatest joys, a sense of immortality, and also some of our greatest fears, sleepless nights, and most profound heartaches.  When we get older and our children become more and more independent and soon leave the nest, we spend considerable time adjusting to the so-called “empty nest” syndrome, learn to enjoy it, but then hope the kids will call or visit from time to time.

Raising toddlers and getting past the “terrible twos” is a cycle of ups-and-downs, constant adjustments, and a lot of introspection in wondering whether standing our ground in the midst of an earth-shattering tantrum is worth the hassle, often giving in for just a few moments of peace.  Yet we also know that teaching our children the meaning of “no” means we are in for the battle of our lives – sometimes to the point that many children do not grow up understanding life has limits, and rights always come with boundaries and great responsibilities.

Take all this in, all the ups-and-downs, all the heartaches and heart breaks and headaches, all the joys, and all the fears – and only then can we get even a glimpse of what our Heavenly Father endures … constantly.  We only have to deal with one, maybe two toddlers at a time; and as grandparents we have the privilege of calling our kids and telling them to come get their little … cherubs when we’ve had enough. 

Our Holy Father deals with the shocking reality of the “terrible twos” constantly and in perpetuity.  For our Lord, it never ends.  And I think He would have it no other way.

It's not easy understanding the mind and heart of The Lord when we separate Him from our own realm and the realities we face.  We envision Him as some distant Being far removed from daily living because we more easily see the greed and hear the hatefulness of the world.  It becomes worse when such things come even from within the Church herself when we get a little too full of ourselves.  Often like toddlers, we mistakenly believe the Church exists to serve us rather than that we are called to serve one another. 

Yet we must also understand we have grown beyond the “terrible twos” ourselves in our spiritual being, we’ve been taught and trained in such a way that we are capable of bringing honor and glory to our Holy Father just as we are commanded to honor our earthly parents – one of those “no latitude” commandments.  Capable, but not always willing.

What we choose to do with what has been imparted to us, however, may be another story altogether.  And much of it depends on how firm a hand guided us in our spiritual infancy just as we needed when we were growing and learning to walk and talk, constantly testing our boundaries, and ultimately testing our ability to trust those charged with our well-being.

Think about this.  When a toddler is moving away from us and toward something that could be dangerous or may only annoy us, we call out to them.  We warn them.  We may even threaten them.  As they continue toward that thing, whatever it is, they look back.  Then we are left to wonder: are they only making sure we’re still there to rescue them?  Or are they testing us and their boundaries??

How is it that we cannot see ourselves and the Church in the life of a toddler?  We might think that being so inwardly directed – as a toddler often is – we might be more self-aware because we have the maturity to be so introspective.  We should see that in spite of our sense of entitlement, life really does not revolve around “me”.  We know it, but we just don’t really want to believe it. 

As it was Israel.  “Out of Egypt I called My Son – yet the more I called them (not “Him”), the more they (not “He”) went from Me” (Hosea 11:1-2).  Though Israel was surely eager to escape that life of degradation and maltreatment in the beginning, it soon came to be Moses’ great challenge to drag the people of Israel kicking and screaming across the wilderness!  How often they wanted to go back!  Independence became too difficult especially when they had a distorted recollection of having once been spoon-fed by their Egyptian task-masters.

And how often did The Lord have to put His foot down?  Not quite as often as He gave His “son” enough latitude to stretch their legs and test the boundaries.  As with a toddler, though we must always be there to protect them from real harm, we also know they must make their own mistakes and explore and learn.  Sometimes the correction for Israel was quite severe when they went too far off the grid; at other times over the course of those forty years in the wilderness, it took a very long time to realize that their rebellion had harmed the community as a whole and had caused the Father – surely expressed in Moses’ exacerbation! – a lot of grief along the way.

Fast forward to Jesus’ time, and it appears the tantrums have not abated!  “Tell my brother to gimme …” (Luke 12:13).  Like a toddler who believes he or she is owed something according to the culture’s standards and their own desires, the person in the crowd still did not quite get the idea that we are owed nothing.  It must be said, however, that Jesus’ parable of the rich man with the storage problem was as much directed at the one complaining as to the one withholding the family inheritance.

Known as the “property laws of toddlers”, the list goes something like this.  “If I like it, it’s mine.  If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.  If you have it and I want it, it’s mine.  If I had it a little while ago but set it down, it’s still mine.  If it looks like mine, it is.  If I saw it first, it’s mine.  If you are playing with it and I want it, it’s mine.  If it’s broken, it’s yours.”

So with gentle (and sometimes forceful) correction, we teach our toddlers a life of virtue.  We teach them about community property (sharing), about being kind in the company of other toddlers (hospitality), and we teach them even to give up a thing when it seems to mean so much more to the other little cherub (charity, self-sacrifice).  Somewhere along the way, however, the lesson is lost; and like a toddler who worries more about what’s “mine” than the abundance of what can be shared, we soon end up with nothing when the thing we were willing to protect at all cost is taken from us – as with the rich man and his storage bins.

“The more I called them, the more they went from Me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols” (Hosea 11:2). 

Call it “pitchin’ a fit”.  We do what seems right to us without realizing that everything we do – and even everything we don’t do – is a reflection of not only what we’ve been taught, but is also often a measure of our rebellion, a testing of boundaries to see what we can get away with.

And in spite of our rebelliousness, our Holy Father still speaks: “I took them up in My arms; but they did not know I healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.  I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.  I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11:3-4). 

None of this is to suggest willful rebellion will always be met with Divine kindness or patience.  We will not always be “lifted to the cheek” of The Lord, but it does seem He will always be at the ready to “bend down” to us in order to feed us, to teach us, to strengthen us, and also to correct us.

The New Testament borrows the flight from Egypt to refer to Jesus and the Holy Family having fled to escape Herod but soon being called back when it was safe.  There is certainly that reference which cannot reasonably be disputed.  As it pertains to the full meaning of Jesus’ life as a reflection of the Holy Word become flesh, however, I prefer “I bent down to them and fed them”. 

It is not enough to simply know Jesus came; it is more to us to know – and to appreciate – why Jesus came, why the Holy Father deemed it necessary to reach out to His Beloved in such a life-changing way, and what He was willing to do for our sake: “I bent down to them …”

I suppose we will always struggle against certain boundaries as long as we do not break completely the “cords of kindness” with which we are led.  Every moment, every trial, every tribulation, every challenge, every heartbreak, every moment of fear and uncertainty is a test and a preparation for what more will soon come. 

In the end, may we come to know what we are called to and prepared for.  Not what’s “mine”, but what is always His: our very lives, the Life of the Church, and the purpose for which we are taught – always to give honor and glory to The Creator.  Always.  Amen.

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