Please Stop Licking the Bottom of Your Shoe

Psalm 127 has had a profound influence on my way of thinking about children (and I wrote about that impact here). But it hasn’t been an easy transition. Instead, it’s been one I have to make each and every day. In this psalm, God defines how adults should think about children, and it’s a view that is neither sentimental nor skeptical. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

This was not my natural view of children at all.

Almost immediately after our first child was born and for a long time after that, I experienced a lot of discouragement and frustration. Even though I wouldn’t have said it in so many words, I often thought of my children as obstacles to what I wanted to do (sleep, relax, read, have a meaningful conversation with someone) or to what I needed to do (work, clean, etc.).

This is a problem in and of itself: human beings are not obstacles. Obstacles are things that need to be altered, avoided, or removed. People, on the other hand, are to be loved. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is patient and kind and full of hope. If I view any person as an obstacle to what I want or think I need, then I am not “in humility [counting] others more significant than” myself.

These little ones are people—fellow creatures made in the image of God. And the fact that they are small and immature should increase my gracious attitude toward their weaknesses and problems, not excuse ungracious behavior or attitudes.

But there was another facet to my problematic thinking. I have found myself feeling anxious and even frustrated about this life with children because I have sometimes imagined that I am the creator of this obstacle. Hadn’t I planned to have these children? What was I thinking? I should have been better prepared for this!

This thinking is foolish. First of all, I am not the creator of my children—God is their Designer and Creator. No matter how much planning went into their birth, God is the one who creates and gives life. Second, God tells me what they are: they are gifts from Him. Again, God’s perspective is that these children “are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Sometimes, I recognize that God says children are a gift, but they don’t feel like a gift. Sometimes they feel like a burden.

I remember a specific time in one of our children’s life that was challenging. This little one, well past being a baby, had started adding a bizarre activity to her repertoire: putting disgusting things into her mouth. Once while we were in a grocery store, I found her licking the bottom of her shoe. Then, moments later, she was sucking on the corner of a grocery cart! This child was almost 4—hadn’t we gotten past this? Even after punishments and long conversations about this, a while later, I found her sucking on a coin like it was candy! I remember feeling repulsed by her behavior, and I would worry that despite my best efforts to keep her clean and healthy, she would make herself sick. Her behavior, and my response to it, sometimes made her feel like a burden to me—I often had to stop and help her with this problem and I frequently worried about her.

Sometimes the children have felt like an obstacle to my happiness and even my own health. All mothers understand the difficulty of late nights with infants, dinners where little eating takes place, times where we forget to eat a meal because we are so busy providing food for the children and cleaning up after them. Many of us understand what it’s like to spend days tending to the health of our children while we are also sick and desperately need rest. We know what it’s like to spend days in the hospital, with little sleep and exhausting hours of the simple task of keeping this little one alive.

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But these are times when I need to remind myself of what God says. They are gifts. If they ever feel otherwise, I need to stop and check my thinking according to the clearly stated reality in Psalm 127.

In her book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, Gloria Furman describes a similar transition in her thinking: “It used to really bother me when people said that my hands were full. Because I’m self-conscious and insecure, I would take these comments as an affront to my ability to parent my children well. I assumed that people who said this were implying that my children were ill-mannered and wild and that I had no idea how to raise them, that my hands were full because I didn’t have a handle on my careening, out-of-control motherhood. I would get defensive and haughty (and sometimes this is still a temptation).

“Now, whenever someone tells me that I have my hands full, I agree with them for two reasons. The first reason I agree with people who say that my hands are full is that ninety-nine times out of one hundred, people mean that I literally have my hands full. . . . Second, I agree with people who say my hands are full, because my hands are not just full. They’re overflowing—with blessings.”

Our children are not obstacles or burdens. Rather, they are people who are entrusted to us as gifts from God. We can thank and honor Him by how we care for this heritage.

Furman, Gloria. Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms. Kindle ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.


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