Training a Toddler

Toddler or Terrorist?
I recently entered a new stage of life that I didn’t see coming: the joy and privilege of parenting a toddler. Camden is a great kid and is almost always easy. Becca and I are very spoiled in many ways. However, Camden is not perfect, despite what his grandmothers will tell you. In recent weeks, he has officially entered “terrorist mode.” I’ve been told the only difference between a toddler and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist. It sounds about right to me. For the record: I blame his friends at Harris Creek’s Parent’s Day Out for radicalizing him.

The phase Camden is in has an infamous name: “The Terrible Twos.” It’s a stage of IMG_9435development when kids get more independent, push boundaries, and are constantly on a quest to discover more about the world they live in. Seeing this shift in his development got me thinking about our development as believers. I think there is a correlation between our maturation as human beings and our spiritual maturation. It’s more than a coincidence that Jesus used the image of “new birth” when describing what it means to follow him.[1] In many ways, we have to learn how to become a new type of person and our growth follows a similar pattern as our development into adulthood.

One of the major metaphors a number of the leaders in the early Church used was this idea of being like immature children that must eventually become mature believers.[2] This makes sense understanding the Church was just beginning and there were a number of new converts that had yet to develop into mature believers. I believe this metaphor may also be a helpful one for us to gauge if and where we need to continue to mature, grow, and develop as believers today. With that in mind, here are a few things I see in Camden that may have spiritual implications for us, as well:

(1) No Concept of the Big Picture
One of the most frustrating things for me as a parent is trying to explain things to Camden using logic, and having it batted back like he’s Dikembe Mutombo. Car rides are definitely the worst. No matter how articulate I am in describing the fun he’s going to have at Nana’s house after our three-hour drive to Houston, it has no affect on his attitude during the car ride. All he knows is he is sitting in a car seat and he wants out. Now! He will start saying “all done” as a way of telling us he’s all done sitting in the car seat. I will explain to him that he can’t get out because “mama” and “dada” would get arrested or he might get hurt. He couldn’t care less. He just wants out. This is because he has no concept of the big picture. He is immersed in the moment and demands his immediate needs be met or else he will punish us with screaming the rest of the trip. Terrorist.

In a similar way, I find myself railing against God sometimes when I’m in an uncomfortable or painful position. I lose sight of the bigger story and simply want to be “all done,” like Camden. I quickly forget that God is developing perseverance in me during these trials.[3] God, as a loving Father, is more interested in forming me into a particular type of person with a specific type of character; He is less interested in my present comfort or discomfort. I’m glad He loves me enough to allow me to grow, but sadly I need to be reminded, too often, that God wants my ultimate good, not my temporary happiness.

(2) A Limited PalateIMG_9235
Something toddlers, and really kids of all ages, are known for is their limited palate. They can only tolerate certain foods at some ages and choose to only tolerate certain foods at older ages. I remember the epic battles over food between my parents and siblings and me. My goal was to turn it into a “Mexican standoff,” to turn my parents on each other so that I could escape unharmed. These battles with Camden have begun in our house. He is becoming notorious for saying “no” to food before he even sees it. He only has an appetite for two things right now: hotdogs and milk.[4] Never are Becca and I more creative than when finding ways to get him to eat anything else.

Spiritually, I think we can get stuck in the same habits as kids do when it comes to what we “take in.” One of the sharpest, and most common, critiques early Church leaders had for their new converts was their desire to only drink “spiritual milk.” This is what it might look like for us: We get stuck reading the same books of the Bible over and over again. “Oh, I don’t read the Old Testament because I don’t understand it.” Or perhaps you have one or two authors you go to for everything when you face life’s tough question. If you find yourself constantly saying, “John Piper says…” or “C.S. Lewis says…” you might need to broaden your palate. Finally, we tend to gravitate towards people we agree with and rarely get exposed to opposing views. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are littered with thoughts from people that see the world through the same lens we do. Maybe you need to broaden your palate by truly listening and seeking to understand people you disagree with.

(3) Wavering Emotions
One thing I didn’t understand until recently are the similarities between a toddler and a teenager. There are times when Camden has emotional swings that can only be compared to that of a teenage girl on her cycle. He has something Becca calls “the laugh/cry.” This is when he is both laughing and crying hysterically at the same time. You know he’s in full meltdown mode (and has probably missed his nap that day) when you see the laugh/cry. The smallest things will set him off to either scream out of excitement or out of anger. He turns into Ron Burgundy at the drop of a hat. It’s like he is a ticking time bomb. I find myself wincing while I wait in that half-second to see which response is coming. Let’s just say I’m not the best at handling the emotional swings, which is why I pray for everyone’s sake we don’t have a teenage girl one day.

When writing to the Church in Ephesus about becoming spiritually mature, the Apostle Paul says they must “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves.”[5] The image Paul paints is that of a boat getting knocked back and forth by waves. It has no control over where it’s going or how it responds. While this verse is talking specifically about sound doctrine and not being deceived by false teaching, I think it also has implications for our emotional maturity. There are many times when we let “waves of emotion” control us and we end up saying or doing something we later regret. We instinctively react and find ourselves in a sinful pattern of anger, gossip, envy, or pride before we know it. That’s why, I believe, Paul goes on to say a few verses later that those who are not in Christ typically “indulge [themselves] in every kind of impurity.”[6] When we begin to mature in Christ, we are no longer controlled by waves of emotion; rather, we are able to use the wind and waves to steer us in the direction God has called us to go.

(4) Constant Entertainment
I used to wonder how my parents were such selfless, giving people. Now I know: their selfishness got beat out of them after four kids. This has to be the explanation. When Camden was a newborn and infant, he required constant attention, for sure. But now, he requires our attention in a whole different way. It’s more like he demands our attention…all of the time. Every second is his. There’s no such thing as “me time” anymore. You can’t even escape him when you’re going to the bathroom! Has he no shame? What’s worse is when he’s not demanding our attention it usually means we’re in bigger trouble. He’s either eating foreign objects he found in the yard, trying to do something harmful to the dogs, destroying an entire room with accurate precision, or putting himself in a harmful situation like climbing on something way too large. Again: My life is not my own any longer. I think I’m going to go cry.

Ok, I’m back. This is one that I think has the most direct application to life in the local church today. We, as Americans, have an insatiable desire for entertainment. I think a lot of people actually believe that the third circle of hell is boredom. Far too many of us, even the more mature Christians, also require far too much attention than we should. And, if we don’t get it, we’ll usually throw a fit or do something dangerous to get the attention we desire. I think of an Oswald Chambers quote when he says, “We are not meant to be seen as God’s perfect, bright-shining examples, but to be seen as the everyday essence of ordinary life exhibiting the miracle of his grace. Drudgery is the test of genuine character. The greatest hindrance in our spiritual life is that we will only look for big things to do.”[7] This may be the best diagnosis of why so many Christians stall out in their growth today. Our need for exciting, fun, entertaining things to do really is stunting our growth. Discipleship is often a long, dusty, and dry road. If we’re constantly looking for the next exit so that we can find some form of entertainment, no matter how cheap or dissatisfying it will ultimately be, we’re going to have a hard time getting any closer to the destination God is calling us to reach.

Just a Phase
The hope I have for Camden is that this stage he is in is just a phase. I know he will continue to grow and mature as a person. I know one day he will be able to understand the big picture and eat something other than hotdogs. What is not guaranteed is our spiritual growth. Immaturity is running rampant through the American Church today. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to spot, much less call out, in one another because we have so few examples of mature believers. We need more Christians who take seriously the call to grow, mature, and develop in their faith. I know there are still areas where I need major refinement and growth, and this will not come without me being open to refinement.

So what about you? Where do you need to grow and develop spiritually? Are there other examples we can apply to our spiritual development from watching our children? I would love to hear more examples in the comment section below.


[1] John 3:3
[2] See 1 Corinthians 3:1–2, 4:14–16, 14:20; Ephesians 4:14–15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12; Hebrews 5:11–14; 1 Peter 2:2–3; 1 John 3:7–10
[3] James 1:2–4
[4] Luckily I know how to handle this after being friends with Landon Collins. He only eats hotdogs and milk, too.
[5] Ephesians 4:14
[6] Ephesians 4:19 [emphasis mine]
[7] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, June 15

3 thoughts on “Training a Toddler”

  1. So true in so many ways. We have a three year old and two year old and definitely know what you are going through. What a great analogy for my spiritual walk. Thanks!

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