This morning, at church with the Wretched Wretch and his mummy, I felt intrigued to observe his modus operandi - if it’s possible to call it that when he’s only had two years in the world in total!
His regular church is a small country chapel with only a few people, where everyone knows each other and he can potter about as he pleases – and during the sermon and intercessions there’s a Sunday School he enjoys going to with his mummy and Wendy.
Our church is much bigger, and though we have several small children and folks with learning disabilities, the worship is more formal, and children are not expected to wander about at the front.
Most of the time church was on, the Wretched Wretch spent playing out in the garden with his mummy and me, but before we decided this to be the wisest course of action, a few differences of opinion took place that she and I tried to keep as quiet as possible in a big echo-y building where every sound carries! “Ssh, darling, tell Mummy what you want - did you want some food? Or some mummy-milk? Or to go downstairs with the other children?” she whispered. No! No mummy-milk! Yes, some food – that meant creeping stealthily round behind the worshippers to retrieve the bag of snacks daddy had packed into the stroller. Mummy opened the bag of dried apple crisps as quietly as she could. The Wretched Wretch had two, and then became restless and unhappy again. Basically, nothing on offer was what he wanted to do, and if he couldn't do what he wanted he started to cry, and we couldn't let him cry in a large resonant building in a gathering for worship! We wraithed as noiselessly as we could round the church, showing him the candles and the pictures in the stained glass windows, and the Baby Jesus in the big painting and the toys – but his bones and muscles are growing and his body just has to run – so in the end “Shall we go outside?” “YES!” he said in great relief; and we did.
We came back in when the great bell in the tower tolled for the elevation of the host, and it was time to make our communion with Jesus.
Reflecting on it as we played on the grass and the steps and under the trees, I thought about how, at two years old, the questions the Wretched Wretch’s being asks are: “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?”
I think that’s fine – when you’re only two.
But I can’t help noticing that many people take those questions with them into adulthood – maybe because, unlike the Wretched Wretch’s mummy, their mummies never let them live those questions to the fullest extent, and the needs that demanded to be satisfied got repressed out of sight still clamouring, to surface again once the power of adulthood made that possible. Many adults still approach their encounters and experiences asking, “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?”
As I thought about it, I asked myself: in an ideal world, what is the question we might be aiming to bring to our relationships with others and the experiences and gatherings we share?
I decided on the question: “Where can I fit in?”
I chose that, because I think we might like to aim for a balance of what is right for me and what is right for others. Asking, what can I contribute? What benefit will I receive? What do I have to offer? How can I be authentically me and at the same time respect the individuality, vocation and preferences of others?
I hope that, as he is listened to and loved, as the Wretched Wretch grows up he will gradually, without really noticing it happen, enlarge the circle of his thinking beyond “How do I feel?” and “What do I want?” to include the feelings and happiness of the others around him, changing his question to: “Where can I fit in?” His happiness will always matter, will always be worthy of consideration, his whole life long – but the trick is to extend the circle to include the happiness of others.
His mummy is very patient. She has the wonderful gift of putting someone else’s happiness first. And as a result, the Wretched Wretch is already learning kindness, learning co-operation, learning to love.