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When our little ones lose all capacity for listening, don’t they end up kind of like us?
Something unfortunate happened recently to my adorable, almost 3-year-old son: His ears fell off.
Of course, I do not mean this literally. The sides of his head still feature cartilage and lobes. It is simply that his hearing suddenly has been … misplaced.
My sweet boy has eaten from the tree of Good and Evil, and it was not organic. He has discovered the deliciousness of the apple of free will. And my husband and I find ourselves standing in what had been our lovely familial Eden, shouting the eternal question posed by parents of almost 3-year-olds everywhere: “Why, God, why?!”
OK, so it’s not that bad. Except that sometimes it is — like when Baby Sister is trying to sleep and Big Brother ignores all parental pleas for quiet and opts instead for charging like a bull through the nursery door. Or, when, after repeatedly being asked to stop pulling a certain mother’s hair with his hands, he decides instead that it’s a better idea to pull a certain mother’s hair with his teeth.
Starting to feel somewhat like the muffled voices of the authority figures in the Peanuts cartoon, I started Googling: “What to do when your 2-and-a-half-year-old stops listening.” As you can imagine, there were myriad answers by myriad parenting “experts,” ranging from mediocre to helpful. But the most interesting tip I saw went something like this: When your toddler acts out and doesn’t listen, acknowledge his choice — then, simply be quiet and wait. There’s a good chance he’ll come around. And I’ve found this to be true. Sometimes we need a little space to get the crazy out — a little time to reflect and reconsider a course of action.
I started thinking about this in the context of not just toddlerhood, but adulthood — specifically as we “grown-ups” interact with our Father in heaven. How often, when the Lord calls us, do we find ourselves busy or distracted or doing something that we have deemed to be better than whatever the Lord might be asking? How often do we actively ignore his gentle prods? How long is it until we finally remember to be attentive, to be obedient? How long is it until we, like Samuel, finally answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
If we think about it, for most of us, it’s usually a pretty long time. Too long. Like a toddler who is susceptible to distraction, overstimulation and disobedience, we, too, can make less-than-desirable choices. We, too, find ourselves not always attentive to the Lord’s voice. Despite knowing better, we shut him away, tune him out, preferring instead to give in to our own self-centeredness. For, all too often, we are prone to think we know best.
And yet, the Lord waits. He waits for our attention, he waits for our obedience. He waits for us in the stranger in need of a smile, in the sick man in need of a hand to hold, in the coworker in need of a listening ear, in the elderly woman in need of company, in the prisoner in need of a letter, in the pregnant woman in need of support, in the spouse in need of a hug, in the child in need of a patient parent. He waits for us in the tabernacle, calling us to him, desiring nothing but our love. He waits for us with no strings attached, with no remonstration on his lips for our tardiness — for our lack of listening. His love is eternal and without bounds.
So, as we continue to navigate the joys and frustrations that come with raising little people who we pray will someday become saints, I will re-commit myself to patience and to waiting — even when little ears have momentarily been misplaced.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at OSV. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.