Heavy sobs racked his barreled chest as he crumpled into a heap on the kitchen floor. Tears streamed down his face while he howled in anguish. And I stood back and laughed silently to myself.
This isn’t a case of maniacal schadenfreude, rather an all too familiar image of parenting. Quick backstory: my kid had just said, “Good morning, daddy! Can I have some breakfast?” to which I responded, “Absolutely, bud. It’s in the oven and will be ready in about five minutes. Would you like to snuggle me in my chair while we wait?” Cue the above tantrum. The absolute definition of petulance.
What a child.
But I guess this petulance isn’t unique to hungry children. I throw the same kind of tantrums all of the time. But my tantrums are much more subtle. Much more refined. At best they look like me walking around fine on the outside but frumpy-faced and pouty on the inside. At worst, complaining to anyone who will listen, my friends, my family, God; Veruca Salt-ing my way through life while refusing to enjoy the abundant gifts God has given me: relationships, experiences, His very presence. Rather than experience the joy and fullness of life in companionship with God, I want my way and I want it now. While I’m sure that none of you can relate to my grown-up tantruming, I have great biblical company: Israel is bad-tempered for just about every day of their journey out of Egypt and into the promised land, Moses is salty that he has to put up with them, Jonah is childishly sulky over the fates of Nineveh and of his little tree, and the list could go on.
What children we are.
When I stop to think about this phenomenon, and to ask the question ‘Why would I choose my kiddish tantrum over trust in God’s plans for me?’, I have to land on this: my human-ness tells me that I know better than the God of the universe. I know what I want, what I need, when I should have it. I know when and where my satisfaction should arrive. Anything other than my own perfect plan is unacceptable. I am unwilling to wait the metaphorical five minutes until my breakfast is ready.
What a child I am.
A child of Adam’s sin. A child of dust, animated by the breath and Spirit of God. Though this spirit lives in me, I am not God. When I remember this and embrace the grace of dustiness, everything changes. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross. I cannot fathom what joy there could have been in the experience of the cross, but even with the tortuous moment looming ahead, Jesus found joy in walking through life in the company of his Father. Was willing to endure death and separation from God for the promise of future joy united to Him forever. Jesus set aside his human desires in order to embrace the good and perfect plan of the Father.
What a beloved child.
And this is the childhood that is offered to us. In the midst of the pursuit of our own desires, we are invited to cease our striving. Invited to enjoy the presence of God our father as we traverse the path set before us. We are invited to set aside our petulant tantrums and instead trust that even when God answers us with a no or a not yet, He offers the gift of His presence in the here and now as we wait for his perfect plan in the not yet.
I invite you to consider: Where are you petulantly plodding after your own desires? Where might God be inviting you to set aside your petulance (overt or subtle) and instead take up the grace of being made of dust, the grace of being a trusting Child of the Father of good and perfect gifts?
This piece was originally presented live at Imago Dei’s Ash Wednesday service on March 6th, 2019.
Maurice Cowley is Imago Dei’s pastor of youth.