This past August I started a part time job teaching rising two year old class at a local preschool. The idea was to provide our ever social butterfly of a son a chance to get back into a day school and help us plant roots deeper into our new community. In theory, it was brilliant. In practice…well, I did not think so much about the two year old students part. For some of you who know me well, you are already laughing at the mental picture that just popped in your head. That is fair. I laugh, too… and cry sometimes.
Here is what I have learned about two year olds; or more accurately what I have learned about myself these past two weeks:
They are fast. No really. Blink and they are on tables, eating dirt, or pulling each other’s ears as they say, “Ears! Ears!” with such pride over their anatomical knowledge. Blink and somehow the cabinets have been given a facelift with a red crayon and the crayon and suspect are nowhere to be found. Blink and a child will be hiding in a box with three old cell phones calling, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” as though it is the new 9-1-1.
They are intuitive. Smart does not cover it. They know things. These children can spot BS a mile away and they let you know they know you are in way over your head. It is something in their eyes. You know they have got you pegged, so you better be finding something more intriguing or up your mom-look game if you want their cooperation. Try keeping a straight face as they mimic whatever words or phrases you say with all of the seriousness in the world, their young tongues still trying to differentiate B’s, T’s, L’s and W’s, and pray you do not let a curse word slip.
They express empathy in the purest of ways. Imagine leaving a world in which you are aware friends exist but you never engage with them, to finding that you can interact with them and they with you. The conflict! The drama! The empathy, though! They are learning what it is to exist in community without the massive weight of insecurity or fear of man. They are learning how to share, how to be gentle, and how to express kindness in ways that their friends receive kindness. Yet the empathy that they carry and communicate towards one another is beautiful. They offer their most prized loveys to a friend in distress. They come up and say, “Hug” as though it is a question they have already answered for you. They are beginning to recognize that their actions have consequences on their communities and in their relationships; that they can identify with their friends’ emotions and meet them on common ground to either encourage, rejoice, or mourn together.
They care. You want the truth? Ask a two year old; brutal honesty always. That empathy piece exists, but false compassion does not. They care about you too much to lie to you. Most of them have yet to deal with long term insecurity, and so they do not feel the need to alter the truth to stroke your ego. Fear of man? Psh! Maybe creepy people, sure, but not the weighty fear of man that makes us question our worth, our identity, our calling and gifts. Nine times out of ten you are going to get raw honesty from these little humans who do not miss a beat and are not satisfied with the counterfeit, so if you do not want to know how your new hair cut really looks, ask an adult.
I am amazed I am not in the fetal position by the end of most school days. It is not because I have terrible students, that could never be further from the truth. I am amazed because every encounter with them opens up my eyes to the Kingdom, both to its beauty and to my desperate need of it. When Jesus refers to childlike faith, and children entering the kingdom, it goes far beyond accepting truth without question. Children do not do that; they question all the time! They do not pretend to know what they do not know, and they are unsatisfied to let you pretend either. For someone who spent most of her career and personal life pretending to be confident, the challenge these children extend to me each week has been excruciating in the healthiest of ways.
Somewhere along the way I adopted this belief that I am only worth what I can offer, so I better have it all together. I have been aware of this false belief for years, even acknowledging how detrimental it is, but I have never been able to uproot it entirely. I have fed my insecurities rather than my curiosities because I have allowed the fear of man to creep into my heart and mind. I have moved from a place of freely observing the world around me for what it is and who I am within it, to observing myself through the lenses of comparison, pressure and expectation. Somewhere along the way that gift of genuine empathy has been twisted into false compassion, because I am more concerned with being seen than with seeing another soul, joining them in that moment, and extending to them that which is life-giving. I have existed within the framework of a double standard for as long as I can remember; saying as honestly as possible to others, “It is okay to not be okay, but it is not okay to stay that way!” “It’s okay to be human! To not have it all together!” while staunchly refusing to extend myself the same courtesy. The problem with that is compassion must be extended towards myself and then overflow to others if it is to be genuine. If in my interactions with others there is to be only mercy with no hint of judgement, the standard must be true for me as it is for them. The Gospel must be all sufficient for me as it is for them. Otherwise there will be a hint of unsafety, judgment, or insecurity in my every interaction.
I am not sure about you, but I want to be a safe person for others. I want my home to be a safe place, where scruffy hospitality is genuinely practiced and not just nicely preached. I want my children, my students, my friends, my family to experience genuine mercy, empathy, and love overflowing from the mercy, love and compassion I have received from God Himself.
Because you cannot give what you do not have. Because you cannot BS your way through preschool. Because you, at whatever age you are, will always be a child of the King.