oh no, I won’t
Show time, and my friend’s four year-old daughter refuses to sing. From where I sit some rows back from the stage, I have the perfect view of her eyes—wide, expressive, and determined; dark pools surrounded by sweetness. She frowns, one of those grimaces that betrays an effort to remain fierce and resolute, shaking her head slowly.
No. I don’t want to. I won’t.
Nevermind she’s always wanted to sing into a microphone; nevermind they’ve practiced. She’s being…well, a child. And this is a safe place for it. We love this kid; we smile whenever she walks in the room. The whole situation just makes us love their family more, because we all have our own stories about times when our children refused to perform except on their own terms. In fact, as I sit watching, and my friend bends her mama-knees to the floor beside her daughter, singing in solo what was meant to be a duet, I feel my own knees bending low. How many times had I done that before myself, whispering encouragement into a baby ear, embracing a body already taute in a posture of no? Persuasion, sometimes bleeding into frustration, has shaded more than a few of my mothering moments. But my friend handles the situation with far more grace than I ever have–a light shrug, an easy smile.
Had we signed Adam up to perform tonight, he would have headed to the stage lightly muttering, “No. No thank you. No thank you.” In fact, in the hallway a few minutes before the show, another friend mentioned that she’d tried to convince Adam to come up front and read scripture.
“I love the way he reads scripture,” she said. “I love his voice. I told him, ‘That’s your talent, Adam, reading scripture,’ but he just laughed at me and kept walking.”
I wasn’t there when it happened, but in my mind I can already see the look on Adam’s face, can hear his forced laughter. Maturity has made Adam polite about his refusal–mostly–but it’s still refusal.
Haha, you’re so funny. No.
Once, when I made Adam read up front, he spoke so quietly that no one could hear him, even with a microphone hovering in front of his lips. We had practiced dozens of times, and each time his performance had been effortless, clear, steady. But that morning, when I’d told him this would be the day, he’d shaken his head. “No thank you. No reading the scripture. Reading is finished.” And when I’d insisted, he’d marched up front and read it so quietly only I could hear.
On my own terms flames hot in Adam’s heart still and always has, so much so that I have at necessary times insisted that he repeat chores and assignments multiple times until he does them correctly. In fact, even the things Adam likes to do become a problem without advanced notice, and who cares about advanced notice when he just plain disagrees with the timing? These days, Adam recognizes my authority enough to obey, even if he protests in the process; but he often tries to re-fashion my instructions in ways that suit him. He omits or changes the parts he doesn’t like. When I was growing up, my mom called this teenage affliction “doing a half-way job,” or “doing just enough to get by.” Some things about being a kid never change, I suppose.
My friend’s family steps off the stage, and I have to smile, because I recognize in that four year-old saunter and in Adam’s “haha, no”—in his strong will—my own spiritual childhood. How many times, after all, do I refuse to follow through on something God has equipped me to do because I don’t like the timing or the details (why is that necessary, anyway?) or the way this whole surrender thing makes me feel at the moment? And how many times does He draw near, embracing me right in the middle of my protests, whispering in my baby ear? Come on, now. You’ve wanted to do this. You’re ready to do this; I’ve trained you. You can do this; we’re doing this together! How many times have I had to repeat things or desperately wished for a do-over because I’ve tried to re-fashion the situation or His instructions to suit my own comfort and will? How often do I omit or ignore just a part of what He’s asked because I just don’t like that part?
So many times; so often I’m willing to follow as long as I can do so on my own terms.
And just like my friend is so gracefully patient with her daughter, God is patient with me. The moment I struggle to relinquish my will in favor of His, He draws nearer, coming down and embracing me, whispering unconquerable Love. Because when I was at my darkest, He loved me; and when I wrestle with obedience, He loves me still. He fathers me right through my most childish moments, carefully working in me a Christlikeness that will at last move me to say, “Not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39).”