My three-year old is an extremely strong-willed child. When my oldest child was this age I used to think he was strong-willed, but since my second one has come along, I realize now that he just barely scratched the surface of that. My second one though is the textbook definition of strong willed, which is completely different from just being stubborn. And although we battle over many things – ok, everything – God is using him to teach me a lot about myself, also the second-born strong-willed child in my family. And in this world of parenting, I have found it is a common thing that God uses our children to teach us, to grow us, and to show our utter lack of control in situations so that we will trust more in Him. It also has been a huge instrument in improving our prayer life…
But it’s not just the lessons we learn about ourselves through raising a child, it’s the lessons we learn about God and how He relates to us. It’s a beautiful analogy of God and His creation. The latest battleground with my preschooler is over nap time. Meaning, he doesn’t want one even though he still really needs one. More importantly, mommy still needs him to have one! You have to give him credit though that he typically chooses a battle on something I truly cannot force him to do. I cannot physically force him to chew and ingest food so we battle over meals. And I cannot physically force him to close his eyes and fall asleep, so we battle over naps. So the rule for naptime is simple. Stay in your room and be quiet. I don’t care if you sleep or not, just stay in your room and be quiet. Rest. We both need you to.
In my latest effort of creative discipline in this battleground, I decided that each time he got out of his room (which was literally 5 seconds after I walked out his door), I would take a toy out of his bed. Honestly, between you and me he had WAY too many toys already in his bed but that was a battle I abandoned months ago. So we had a bit of an exchange where he would leave his room and I would remove a toy. Several toys and many tears later, I put him back in the bed and picked up another toy. Then with tears full in his eyes, he looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I don’t want you to take my toys away.” I gently explained to him that I didn’t want to take his toys away either. I’ve given him a very simple way to keep his toys. How does he get to keep them? He points to his bed, knowing he must stay in his bed and be quiet. So I tell him that the choice is his. If he chooses to stay in his bed, he can keep all his toys. But if he chooses to get out of his room or scream, then he’ll lose toys. The choice is entirely up to him.
And as I explained this to him, I realized this is exactly how God deals with us. At the end of this life, we will all stand before God and be judged for what we did with our time here. God will judge us and determine our just reward. For some, it will be an eternity of life in heaven and for some it will be an eternity of life in hell. Jesus describes hell as a place where “the fire will never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). In Luke 16 in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus describes the two eternities as one “resting in the comfort of Abraham’s bosom” and the other across the chasm as a place of “great anguish and torment, to the place of the dead.”
Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing that any of us can do – and God knew that. It’s not up to our works. That’s why God did it. The level of righteousness required is unattainable so God provided a way for us to gain righteousness, and it has nothing to do with what we do. It has to do with who we know. John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s it. It’s nothing about what we do but who we know. Do you know Jesus? Only then can you have that righteousness. Because only then will God see Jesus instead of you during that judgment. He will see holiness and perfection and righteousness instead of your filthy rags. But without knowing Jesus, you WILL have to rely on what you did with your time here, your works. All of them. All of the nasty things you’ve said behind people’s backs. All of the angry words spoken to your enemies. All of the jealous thoughts you’ve had of your friends. All of the lustful ideas you’ve had of other people. No matter how much “good” you do, those things are still there. And where will that get you?
People oftentimes think that is so horrible for God to send people to an eternal damnation and judgment. How could God send someone to a place where the fires are never quenched? A place of eternal torment and punishment? How dare God judge us and deny us that eternal life? How dare God “take away our toys”? But meanwhile, God is saying to us, “I don’t want to take away your toys either. I’ve given you a very simple way to keep your toys and have eternal life. How do you get to keep them?” You point to the cross, knowing you must believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. “So I tell you that the choice is yours. If you choose to follow Jesus, you can keep all your toys. But if you choose to reject and deny Jesus, then you’ll lose your toys. The choice is entirely up to you.”