Monday, March 29, 2010

saying no to ice cream and other delicious things

i swear i've learned more from being a mom than anything else i've ever done. (and yes, as for this lesson--and all the rest of them here, too--i know that i'm no doubt the millionth person to have drawn this comparison. but it's my blog, so...)

if you have a child or know one who has reached the age of rationality, of being able to communicate with intention and purpose, you have no doubt had--or at least overheard--some version of this conversation:

sweet, thoughtful, careful child: "mom, can i please have [insert ridiculous thing here, e.g. ice cream for breakfast, a dog, a sleepover at the fire station, etc]?" (n.b. dog-lover that i am, i in no way intend to imply that a dog is a ridiculous thing. ridiculous request from the backseat of the car when passing the pet store on the way home from school, though, i think we can agree.)

mother, with a chuckle: "no, honey, you may not."

incredulous child: "but i said 'please'!"

the implication in the retort: i have carefully done as you have taught me. i have asked politely. and now there is no reason i should not get what i want.

what the parent knows: the request is ridiculous/unhealthy/not good for the child in the long run/impossible/not in the parent's plan. please or no please, the child is not going to get what he has requested.

this conversation and its result is likely not a surprise to you. no good parent would let her child have ice cream for breakfast, unhealthy as it would be for him. no good parent would make the decision to get a dog without careful consideration of the effect it would have on the entire family and without conversation among the family members about whether or not it's a good idea. being a good parent, in fact, certainly requires that you say "no" to some requests that are not in the best interests of the child.

agreed? easy.

so why, then, do we not expect our Perfect Father to do the same on our behalf? "but i said please," we cry out again and again, indignant that a polite, properly submitted request could be denied. how could He possibly say "no" to this clearly-wonderful thing for which i've asked so nicely?

insert the ice-cream-for-breakfast for the clearly-wonderful-thing and you'll begin to understand.

why is it that we say no to the ice cream request? myriad reasons. it's not healthy. it won't serve the child well to start the day with sugar and nothing nutritious. it sets the child up to expect treats at odd times, which could start a bad habit. it's bad for his teeth, his healthy weight, his energy levels. you have something better--cereal or toast or eggs or pancakes--to offer. you know he'll have ice cream after dinner and want to save the treat for an appropriate time.

no matter how many sermons i hear about what it means when God says "no", i'm not sure i'll ever understand. (here's a link to a really good one, if you're curious: click on November 8, 2009.)

but whether or not i understand doesn't matter.

because, as you'll know if you've ever tried to explain the no-ice-cream-for-breakfast answer, you'll remember that the child's response is rarely thoughtful or helpful, and even more importantly, rarely matters. neither whining nor rational questioning nor debating is going to convince you that ice cream is the best thing you can give your child for breakfast. so, as you may have experienced with your own child, sometimes the best answer (as much as you detest sounding like your mother and everyone else's when you say it) is "because i said so." the child is not going to like it or understand it, but that doesn't change the fact that you know best, you love the child, and you're going to stick to what you know to be best for him. end of story.

so what are we to do with God's "no"? because certainly we are called to ask and seek and knock (matthew 7:7). but when the answer is clearly "no," we are not to whine, "but i said please! but i asked three times!"

what is it we want from our children? trust that we know what is best and cheerful obedience to what we expect.

when we whine and protest, certain that we know best and surely God has done us wrong, we do not trust in His perfect will. if we do not believe that even His "no" is in our best interest, we fail to believe that we have a Perfect Father who wants what's best for us--always. when we choose not to obey, we choose to disbelieve, even as the child who throws a tantrum when you offer cereal in place of the ice cream chooses to disrespect and disbelieve that you know what is best for him.

do you fault your child for being sad at being denied ice cream for breakfast? no. you understand--yes, that would taste delicious; and yes, it would be a special treat; and yes, it has been a long time since you've had ice cream; and yes, i wish i could have some, too; and yes, i know you feel sad. but none of that changes the answer, and none of that changes the fact that you expect the child to obey and trust that you want what's best for him and wouldn't do anything to hurt him.

said Jesus, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (luke 11:11-13). will heaven, then, look like ice cream for breakfast every morning? i don't think so. i like to hope that by the time i get there my will will be more in line with His and i'll be too busy understanding and desiring what's best to be thinking about ice cream at all.

(in the meantime, is it possible to teach a child to seek his parent's will? if only.)


Cortney said...

well I am 2-2 I am afraid. I did buy a crazy dog with little thought to KNOWING how hard it would be as I have done it before; and we had ice cream for breakfast this week :-)

Daniele said...

That's why I love you, Cortney. As I wrote that post, I thought, someone is totally going to bust me on this "what a good parent" would do thing. Of course, it would be you! Shows you what I know.

Patricia Berman said...

And...when I once said to you"because I said so", you answered "that was rude!" :) Just saying...

Daniele said...

How did you raise such an insolent child, Mom? :)