Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Thought for the New Year

One of the great privileges of being a grandparent is not feeling responsible for certain things, either because you just aren’t or because you’ve learned that some things can’t be changed or don’t matter anyway. Sometimes it’s just very interesting to sit back, observe, and “wax philosophical.” Beware. This is one of those times.

The other afternoon after we opened Christmas presents, the little ones were watching an Elmo video on the tv. At our house we have some small chairs—one rocker, one tiny straight chair, and two child-size folding chairs that go to a little card table. The older two grandchildren, aged almost 6, were busy playing with their toys, but the not-quite-twos were more or less watching Elmo. Why more-or-less? There were three chairs and two toddlers. They were constantly moving positions. As you watched, it became clear that they were engaging in a mostly non-verbal competition to control the most chairs. One would try to entice the other away from her spot with a toy or some babble. If it worked, she would take the chair and then try to control the empty chair next to it, leaving the other toddler with only one. A very short time later, the control pattern would change.

Watching something like this makes it very clear that it is human nature to be competitive and acquisitive, far beyond our personal needs. That is why we spend time teaching sharing and caring for others. A church youth director, having just returned from a trip to a waterpark with a group of teenagers on a hot day, told me that he looked at people at that park—soaked, stringy hair, sunburned, all the bulges and less-than-glamorous characteristics showing—and wondered if that was humanity as God sees us, without the “fronts” that we put on for each other. I couldn’t help but reflect on the same idea when I think about how many of the problems in the world today are over cornering the rights to someone else’s chair—or to the unused chair that no one really needs anyway.

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