Ben has discovered naughty. He has, of course, shown behaviour for some time where his will did not coincide with his parents, and he made his point with varying degrees of impact, effect and volume. But now he has added a further dimension. He indicated that he was hungry, so Diane got the chocolate digestives out and gave him a biscuit. A little later, he went to the cupboard and indicated he wanted another biscuit; he happily munched his second biscuit. Diane was in the back room, and she heard the cupboard open and a rustling. She rushed to the kitchen to find the cupboard closed and Ben hiding in the alcove, trying to extract the third biscuit from the packet. It was not the taking of the biscuit that showed Ben had discovered naughty; at just short of 2, it could be that he just didn’t know that he was in the wrong. It was the closed cupboard and the hiding in the alcove – it showed he knew he shouldn’t be helping himself, knew he was in the wrong, and still couldn’t help himself, just like grown-ups. We wanted to laugh, but stern parents – correctly – dealt with their wayward little boy.
Ben joins a long list. It begins with Adam. After helping himself to the forbidden fruit because he just couldn’t help himself, the first thing he did was to hide from his wife with a fig leaf, and from God behind a bush. Latterly, he joins all our grandchildren and the rest of the human race. All the grandchildren – like all children – come with their own personalities. I thought before I was a parent that children came like a ‘lump of clay’, for parents to mould and shape. I rapidly learnt that raising four children was raising four different personalities, and rather than ‘lumps of clay’, it was more like watching roses unfurl; all their personality was there, but was progressively displayed. You could help or hinder, but not change the underlying given personality, and this personality shaped the way they perceived and reacted to the world. It was tempting to try to raise the children identically – treating them fairly, so it seemed. The arrival of a daughter after three sons was the final confirmation that ‘fair’ did not mean ‘same’; they each needed subtly different responses and help.
So with the grandchildren: each has his or her own personality, and at 2 to 6 years old, are already clearly showing who they are. However, universally, all have discovered naughty. Quite often, children are ‘discovering’ without seeing the – to adults – blindingly obvious consequences until too late. Taken to task, head hanging in shame, they utter those words guaranteed to goad even placid adults, “I didn’t think.” In most cases, however, “I didn’t think!” reveals just that – a lack of thought, although with potentially devastating outcome, yet not actually naughty. Naughty may be the subsequent response to their own misdemeanour; hiding the activity, hiding themselves, hiding behind blaming another… All our grandchildren long ago joined the human race in these responses. Sometimes, naughty is the driving force; actions knowingly undertaken which are wrong, deliberate disobedience, calculated to bring advantage at someone else’s cost. Alas, even taking the biscuit by Ben fell into the last category, even though if it was appropriate for him to have a third biscuit, it would be freely given.
We’ve all been there, and whatever the personality, also experience the separation that comes with naughtiness, the fracturing of relationship, the ended free communication, the awkwardness in each other’s company. Euan walks off and sulks, Zach stomps off or throws himself to the ground, Aedan runs and hides, Mayaana sits herself on the naughty step and cries (quite often when it has been only a minor rebuke on safety grounds – “Sit down, Mayaana!” – scuttle & cry!). All the children are physically showing the emotional and social separation that naughtiness brings. Just like Adam & Eve. Children have short memories and an adult hug will often end the separation and stand-off; would that it was that easy for adults, who can manoeuvre themselves into deeply entrenched and hardened positions where the stand-off and separation seem permanent, and the first word to break the deadlock can feel like its chiselled out of rock – with your fingers. If only they would speak! Just one word! Just show we can reach across and mend this gulf, stop hiding in ourselves, and enjoy open communication again.
Good news! When like Adam & Eve we have severed our relationship with God by deliberate naughtiness, and feel the depth of the gulf we have fixed between us, and long for the first word to bring reconciliation, He has already spoken that word: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (The Bible, Romans 5.8)
Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus, the Word of God, peace, reconciliation and joy as you re-open the broken communication with the Lord, and leave the naughty step behind.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,