• alyssa conlee

learning from children

It was a rough morning. Stubbornness with extra attitude and a dollop of defiance on top. One of those mornings. As I took the preschool-aged little girl to her room for saying "no" one too many times, she fought me. She asked why. She made it clear that she was not happy with the consequences that her actions had lead to. I closed the door and walked away, waiting for her tantrum to stop.

I've been nannying full-time for the past 4 years, babysitting for 9, and changing diapers for 15. You could say that I have a little bit of experience with kids (though it's nothing compared to some wonderful moms I know). One thing that I love about children is that no matter their age, personality, or family life, they display true humanity. Let me clarify: I do not mean "humanity" as in charity, compassion, or goodness. I mean "the quality or state of being human" (Merriam-Webster).

Being Human

You see, kids don't wear the masks that adults do. As people grow, we learn what the world wants from us, what we should do, and who we wish we would be. We adapt. Change. And when we can't, we tend to pretend like we have. We wear masks. This may seem dramatic, but the way I see it... we begin to lose our humanity.

While even young children may begin to manage their behavior for various reasons, kids have much less control of their actions and a much more difficult time disguising their motivations than adults do. Both the beautiful design of the Creator and the inescapable sin nature of humanity are clearly seen in kids. Typically, when you see children behaving in one way or another, they are being authentic. I love this about kids. They don't have to try to be themselves, because they are always themselves. For better or worse.

Cleaning Up Our Mess

Recognizing that kids are generally more authentically human than adults are has sparked plenty of introspection for me. During times of self-reflection, I've discovered that in many ways, I act in some of the same ways that kids do... it just looks a bit different with my grownup mask on. At the root of the behaviors however are the same attitudes and hearts that kids are operating from. On this particular morning, God clearly showed me how childlike I can truly be.

As I heard the 4-year-old's cries dwindle, I reentered the room. It was spotless: every toy was in its place, clothes in the hamper. Eyes still watery, she looked up at me. "I picked up all my toys for you," she said, barely over a whisper. I never asked her to do this. This was her way of making peace.

Just like this young girl who attempted to make things better by doing extra work, I've seen countless adults of doing this too. I know I've done it myself.

We know we made a mistake, so we do something "good" in order to reduce the tension that the guilt produces. It reminds me of air freshener. We attempt to "clean up" our own messes, not by doing the work necessary to remove the source of the stench, but by spraying Febreze and hoping that no one notices.

The thing is, the gospel has freed us from this obligatory (and futile) effort to clean-up our lives. When Christ's blood has covered us, we do not have to do good things to make God happy with us. He loves us because we are His children, not because we are transforming the world with our insincere goodwill.

I came to ask myself the question: am I doing [fill in good action] because I love God more than anything or am I doing this to make up for my sin? I was surprised to see that deep down, many times my answer is the latter.

This was not the first time that the Holy Spirit has used children to speak truth into my life, and it surely won't be the last. God always seems to use the most humility-inducing situations to teach me more about who He is and who I am in light of Him.

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© 2019 by Alyssa Conlee