Ian’s birthday was very low-key: a normal day, hanging out at my parents’ house during our vacation, opening presents and eating cake with my parents and sisters at the end of the day. Knowing that would be the case, I found myself wondering what I could do to make his day extra fun and enjoyable without making it complicated. (Of course, I knew that as a 2 year old, he wouldn’t remember the details of our day, but I still wanted to help him have a good time in the midst of it.)
As I thought about it, I remembered how Elise recently wrote that on her daughter’s birthday, it was her goal to say “yes” as much as possible. Let’s be honest: Ian is a loud, messy, stubborn, silly, get-into-everything toddler. I say “no” quite a bit, or at the very least, I redirect and make alternative suggestions. (Which are often ignored or rebelled against.) I decided Ian’s birthday was a good day to say “yes” more often.
I said “yes” to riding those electronic car in the mall, which I normally walk past very quickly. (You know the ones? The red plastic race car and pretend ice cream truck?) I said “yes” to running around Grandma & Grandpa’s backyard despite the 95-degree heat, and I said “yes” to 3 packages of fruit snacks. I said “yes” when he asked to push his stroller around the store. (Within reason. When he started careening into walls and getting dangerously close to people’s ankles, I stepped in. Had to draw the line somewhere, you know?)
It wasn’t revolutionary or life-changing. I doubt Ian noticed a difference in our day. But you know what? I did.
When it was his bedtime, I was more relaxed than normal. I wasn’t worrying about the power struggles we had that day (though we still had some). Instead of my typical “There’s still much more to do!” feeling, I felt good about what had been accomplished (which was, objectively speaking, not much of anything). The difference was tangible, and I spent days asking why that was.
When it comes to life as a stay at home mom, I’ve felt the need to approach each day with a plan. I like to know what we’re doing, when, and how: I like to plan outings, to know exactly when Ian is going to eat and nap, to know what is for lunch each day. On the one hand, routine is good for both Ian and me, and I’m in a better frame of mind when I avoid decision fatigue.
But after Ian’s birthday, it occurred to me that maybe those behaviors don’t simply reflect a desire for routine, but for control. I like to set the agenda, and I don’t like to deviate from it. This made teaching hard for me, because I couldn’t always control when my students were absent, when thunderstorms meant no recess, or when a parent-teacher conference went poorly. Similarly, this tendency made children’s ministry hard for me when my job responsibilities changed four times in less than 3 years. And no surprise, this can cause an awful lot of frustration when parenting a toddler, who seems to wake up with his own agenda every day.
Reflecting on my days with Ian, I see now that I have so many opportunities to listen to what Ian wanted and let him set the agenda. Because he’s a child, I fall into the mentality of thinking, “I’m in charge.” And truly, I am…but I don’t need to be at every moment. When I want to go to Target, but Ian says, “No bye-bye. I want ball,” we don’t always have to go to Target.
After all, don’t we often express love to someone by doing something the he or she wants to do? I watch UCF football with Evan, and I listen to my sister talk about CrossFit, and I choose a restaurant I know my friend enjoys. Sometimes, that’s how we love people best. Relationships are not meant to be about control.
When I set an agenda, I measure the day’s worth (and often, my worth) by what I did or didn’t accomplish. Did I cross everything off my to-do list? Did I meet all the goals I set? Normally, the answer is no, and I’m left thinking more about what the day lacked instead of all that it held.
When I decided it was Ian’s turn to set the agenda, I needed to assume that very little would be accomplished and that made me feel FREE. My day had only one purpose: let Ian do what he wanted. Mall rides and fruit snacks not withstanding, most of what he wanted is what he wants every day: play with cars, sing songs, run around outside. But I was able to enjoy it immensely more, because I wasn’t sitting around thinking about what else needed to be done. My worth wasn’t tied to the outcome.
Of course, I’ve started wondering how this affects the other relationships in my life, especially with Jesus. If I am bent on setting the agenda every single day, how can I be in relationship with someone who’s primary request to his disciples was, “Follow me”? I don’t want to boss my children around just because I can. Instead, I want to live life alongside them, paying attention to how they are experiencing the world on that given day, and enter into their experiences. I don’t want to wake up in the morning and pray, “Jesus, here is my plan for today. You are welcome to show up and cooperate with it.” I want to say, “Jesus, I invite you into my day. Show me how to walk with you.”
I can trust that my agenda is less important than loving the people around me well, and I can trust that my agenda will not leave me feeling fulfilled in the same as that surrendering to the ways of Jesus.
“I’m learning…how to bring my nothing into the presence of Christ, and simply be with him–no agenda, no checklist, no accomplishing allowed…My agenda isn’t the most important one and, many times, may not be important at all. Knowing this is a great first step toward cultivating a lightness of heart.” –Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday
“…we enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms. We embrace what is given to us–people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city–just as they are given to us, and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what he is doing. Every time we set out, leaving our self-define or culture-defined state, leaving behind our partial and immature projects, a wider vista opens up before us, a landscape with larger promise.” –Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way
I want to lead less and follow more, because I’m learning that therein lies freedom.