How a four-year-old can teach her dad about compassion… from the toilet.
I’m not sure how much you want to read about ‘cute stories’ about someone else’s children but, don’t worry if you don’t because this story is not cute! With their keen sense of right and wrong, and an uncanny ability to take our parental moral high ground and sling it right back in our faces, children are often more terrifying than cute!
We were sat around the table at lunchtime with our four-year-old and her nursery friend when our daughter started ‘acting up’; I can’t even remember what she did or whether it was in anyway outrageous but it was enough for that day and I decided to send her away from the table.
Away she went: outraged by my imperious attempt to exile her an emotionally high octane four-year-old stormed upstairs demanding that I follow her and help her on to the toilet – her usual reaction to upset for a couple of years was to need the toilet. As I plonked her down (carefully chosen verb there) on the toilet seat it somehow transformed itself, before my eyes into the prophetic throne of judgement.
A fierce – but slightly distracted – face glowered up at me and pronounced loudly, “YOU DON’T KNOW GOD!” I leaned against the door lintel with practiced and self-conscious parental patience and calmly asked her, “What do you mean? Why don’t I know God?”
“Don’t you remember what it says in the Bible? Jesus said that children are the most important and… and… YOU SENT ME AWAY!”
I was genuinely and instantly repentant. How could I argue? I suppose I could say that her behaviour was unacceptable and that I deserved a peaceful lunch; I could say that even Jesus would have expected children to mind their manners – I’ve no idea if this is true but a man who spits on blind people’s eyes is not worth second-guessing.
In reality I had no defence: rather than try and understand her behaviour or my own response to it and try and reconnect with my daughter I had decided to send her away and being bigger, stronger and more powerful than her, I could do that.
But like all powerless people – and children are no exception – she had a liberation theology to lean on in times of oppression. Her prophetic call from the seat of judgement met its target; I hope it left its mark.
Keith Hebden is a parish priest and Seeking Justice deanery adviser in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire where he chairs the Diocesan Greener Churches Group. He teaches and writes on practical theology and spirituality. His latest book,Seeking Justice: The radical compassion of Jesus plots experiments in faith based community organising and direct action. Some of his workshop material and other resources can be found at Compassionistas. He’s married to Sophie Hebden, a freelance Science writer and they have two daughters.