The oft-given wisdom about young children is true: they really do open your eyes to God in new ways. I don’t know who said it first, but it makes me think of that line: “Sometimes God comes to you disguised as your life.” I can be almost at my wits end while simultaneously filled with gratitude for how kids experience this world that is so new to them. If I see it through their eyes, I see God camouflaged everywhere. Here’s one example.
Recently I closed my eyes and envisioned myself approaching God. God welcomed me, and I got the sense that God was holding a few things to give me. But my arms were full of these awkwardly big rocks — I looked like my 2.5 year old, Jude, carrying 10 stuffed animals in his arms all at once, looking like he'd drop 9 of them at any moment. God searched around my pile of rocks, and he put a tiny gift between two of the rocks. That was all that fit, and I turned to leave with my arms still full of these rocks.
I wondered what the rocks represented? Why did I get the sense that God wanted to give me more?
Over the next few days, while spending time with my kids, the identity of several of those rocks became obvious. Ah, I see. Each time I found myself disgruntled or feeling like complaining, I realized something else about the rocks. Isn’t it true that the things we sometimes find most difficult are the most illuminating?
There is the Rock of Ease. For me, this rock represents safety from anxiety. It’s my version of self-protection. If things are easy, I’m protected from panic. I can’t be anxious if I’m not overwhelmed. I want control over the situation. If I let go of this rock, what happens when there’s chaos?
There is the Rock of Productivity. Nothing shows me how tightly I grip this rock more than having kids who desire my attention. This rock screams, “Time is limited, let’s be efficient.” Kids, leave me alone right now — don’t you understand I need to rake these leaves while making this work call while also ordering that thing online? Ugh, I can’t get anything “meaningful” done! For me, this rock is just a sneaky means of self-promotion.
There is the Rock of Responsibility. I’ve carried this rock the longest — since I was a young kid. I tried to parent my brother. I felt responsible for Dad’s happiness. Right or not, I perceive myself as keeping most of my relational plates spinning. I’ve known I am a people pleaser, but having a toddler has shown me just how heavy this rock really is.
And, maybe most importantly, I realized the most “duh” thing about these rocks — they are clearly making it tougher to receive better things from God. Often I’m coming to God with little room for anything from Him. “Sure, if you have something light, definitely efficient, and something that keeps people happy, I’ll take it. Just put it right there, God. Thanks. Only room for one, though, sorry.”
What I need is a way to do an Exchange. A practice to put down a rock and make room to receive afresh.
You know who does these kinds of soul exchanges easily? Young kids. My kids bring themselves - their true, authentic selves - and they simply receive from the adults around them. Jude brings his emotions, his desires, his hunger for attention, and he exchanges it so easily with me — I have such power to take that from him and give him something else, to meet his needs and then some, and ideally, when he inevitably races off across the house again, he’s carrying a better rock with him. He has no ego in it. He has no fears about what life may look like if he puts down his rocks. He isn’t looking for the easy way, he certainly isn’t looking for productivity, and I assure you, he isn’t yet a devout people pleaser.
We know when we’re coming to God with something less than our authentic selves. I’ve had a hard time letting go of these rocks, but it becomes easier when I envision what God may want to give me: peace, adventure, mystery, patience, surprise, resilience, legacy, trust. I know the toddler who still lives inside me is eager to loosen his grip on those rocks and is quick to exchange for something better. My task is to receive so I can sprint off across the house again, lighter and more filled up.