"Parents say 'Sit still!' God says 'Wriggle.' "
After many years, I can still hear the voice of my mother, desperate to restore sanity to a living room situation that threatened to get sticky - literally.
One of our sons was enjoying the treat he had earned for good behavior - a huge dollop of ice cream topped with caramel in a cone. The living room carpet had recently been cleaned. That's when my command to "Sit still!" rang out. It probably sounded so fierce that even the ice cream came close to melting in fear.
Of course my mother was right. She usually was, especially in matters relating to wise parenting. She knew only too well how exhausting it can be to try to keep the lid on supercharged kids who carry on from too early to too late. She'd been there, done that, four times over - and had done a pretty good job of it.
We often talked together about the importance of broadening our perspectives on child- rearing. I said how frustrated I was by the self-help manuals that set perfect goals for us and somehow failed to allow any wriggle room - for kids or parents.
"I read those books and just feel so inadequate," I complained. "They convince me I could be raising a monster, and that I'm the one who's on the floor throwing a tantrum."
That's when my mother stepped in to offer her customary quiet assurance. "No one can do it alone," she said. "And I don't just mean you've got to have a spouse or relative or baby sitter to back you up. This job cannot be done without the support of the Father-Mother, who cares for us all."
Then Mum would share one of her favorite passages from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy: "Let us feel the divine energy of Spirit, bringing us into newness of life and recognizing no mortal nor material power as able to destroy. Let us rejoice that we are subject to the divine 'powers that be' " ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 249).
She also liked to refer me to several Bible passages that suggested that vigorous movement might not be such a bad thing if it celebrated a joyful awareness of God's presence in our lives.
For example, Psalm 90 doesn't say, "Teach us to sit straight and immobile with our lips sealed." It says, "Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we'll skip and dance all the day long" (verse 14, Eugene Peterson, "The Message"). Doesn't that skipping remind you of the toddlers who are driving you to distraction? Doesn't it imply that there might be scope for wriggling and giggling? And that this might be as natural as the development and growth of flowers, trees, or lambs in a meadow?
I thought of this passage from the Gospel of Luke: "Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance - but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?... If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?" (Luke 12:27, 28, "The Message").
What was I worrying about? Suddenly I saw the children's exuberance and noisy spontaneity in a new light. I caught glimpses of their unique individuality, shaped and supervised by angel thoughts from God. Their nonstop activity wasn't a conspiracy to tire me out, mess up the carpet, or make me feel inadequate as a parent. It was an innocent expression of energy - an urge to explore the bounds of God's love-filled universe, a natural impulse to discover new things.
And there was a bonus. I realized that on their journeys of discovery, the children would be well cared for. Psalm 91 assures us: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands" (verses 11, 12). That promise embraces both parents and children. I also noted that it implies we'll be kept from falling, not from wriggling.
Our living room carpet survived the ice cream and outlived the boys' time in that house. It taught me some essential lessons about defeating worry - and far more important lessons about the freedom we all have to express the boundless joy that comes from trusting confidently and completely in God's care.