I am sitting outside in the garden, watching my boy. Being outside is always a mixed blessing. I LOVE getting outside the house and having some sunshine, but it is always more physically demanding, and I have to be very careful not to overdo it.
Basically, I go outside, and then pray that my boy finds enough to occupy himself so that he doesn’t do anything that requires me having to walk to him or stop him doing something naughty. That would mean we’d have to go back inside. I would then spend the afternoon on the sofa beginning to recover, while he negotiated the easier-to-manage toddler hazards of the family room.
The stakes are high – his good behaviour and responsiveness to me will mean the difference between a rare afternoon in the sun together or an exhausted Mummy and indoor play. But he doesn’t know this. He’s a toddler.
Anyway. All is going well until he goes over to the gravel patch. He puts a stone in his mouth. This is now the third time that he’s done that, and I know that I need to knock this on the head. I summon up my very best Authoritative Voice.
“Okay, that’s a Time Out. Come to Mummy, please.”
We have a bit of a stand-off, and I try a deeper voice, to no avail. I figure I’m going to have to go over to him. I walk towards him. Immediately, he runs away, though still looking at me. He runs all of a metre away to the wall of the house, pressing himself against it. I look at him, then advance two steps towards him. He looks at me, runs a metre in the opposite direction, and presses himself against the wall of the garage.
I have to stifle a giggle. It’s so funny – that he is running away, in his toddler head, to the edge of the earth – and yet I am still there. My mind jumps to Psalm 139 – ‘Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’ A parent – even one who can’t walk very far – is somehow still omnipresent, eternally big; God-like and inescapable.
I advance a step towards him again and this time he turns to the left and runs into his little den, behind the hedge. I pause. I need a strategy. I have been standing up for too long already, and am risking it with my short steps. I can’t afford to waste energy on ‘chasing’ him, but I need to follow through with the discipline.
I have a brainwave. How do you get a child to stop running away from you and come towards you?
Answer: you hide.
I hide a little out of sight. Sure enough, after approximately ten seconds, he comes wandering out – just to check.
That’s the thing. The absence of God is a more terrifying thought than the experience of His discipline.
The silences of God are somehow more frightening than His judgements.
“To whom shall we go?” say the disciples to Jesus. “You have the words of eternal life.” It’s a hard thing to follow Jesus – but what can you do? He’s the only place to go.
I’m not very good at being holy. And I’m not very good at suffering. I’m not gracious or serene. I rage, I run. I ask questions that God does not answer. I refuse to submit to the discipline of enduring suffering. I protest.
But this makes me wonder about God’s silences in my life. Could it be that they are not abandonment but enticement?
I wait for my boy to come within grabbing distance, and then quickly pull him to me, sitting him down on my lap on the grass. He squeaks and struggles, but I hold him firmly and gently.
“This is your Time Out for putting stones in your mouth,” I explain.
This is how we do Time Outs in our house – not on a step, for the simple reason that I can’t physically do the Supernanny technique of repeatedly picking him up and putting him back down when he tries to walk away from the naughty step. Instead, he goes on my lap and I put my arms around him and hold him close to me while I count silently for a minute.
It is, in essence, an enforced cuddle. I did wonder whether it would even work as a discipline measure, but it seems to, and I like this gentle form of discipline while we both calm down. I can smell his hair and he can feel my heartbeat.
His crying subsides. I breathe more slowly. He begins to stroke my arm – his comfort reflex.
I think about Hebrews 12:7, and how it talks of enduring all hardship as though it were God disciplining his children.
I wonder: if I stopped crying and struggling, would I feel the heartbeat of God?
Over to you:
- Have you ever felt like you were running away from God?
- Have you ever felt like God was disciplining you?