The morning was hot, sticky. We finished up at Walmart and picked Daddy up from the workout place, where he had gone, as three-year-old Agnes said, “to get stronger.”
Then we passed a cute little food truck with outdoor seating under the trees. I’d always wondered what it was—“Southern Shave and Brew” sounds like a Nashville place, not like a place you’d find in small town Lafayette. But when we realized “shave” meant shaved ice and “brew” meant coffee, we decided it was a fine morning for a family treat.
So we loaded out of the car, and soon the girls were sitting in front of mounded little cups of shaved ice, soaked in that delicious corn syrupy stuff that’s supposed to give the impression of strawberry or vanilla. It was pleasant under the trees. Even the humidity seemed less potent. Baby Henry stood on his fat legs and begged for bites from the girls. The kids were surprised and pleased by their good fortune.
But as the last few bites were tilted and sipped out of the bottom of the paper cups, I could see Agnes’s heart hit a decision point. Her face began to fall, to crease up into discontent, though it had been wreathed in smiles a moment ago.
“I wish they had some more!” she finally burst out.
“Time to go, kids. Load up,” from Daddy.
Agnes completely lost herself and burst into tears. “I wish they had some more, Mom! I wish they had donuts!” I asked Justin to take the others to the car so I could speak to her in private.
“You may not have a bad attitude that it’s over,” I said. “You will get a spanking if you don’t fix your attitude.” This sobered her a bit and she was able to hear the next piece of brilliant theology coming her way. “God gives us good things, but you can’t enjoy them more than once. When it’s over, it’s time to go do something else. You must say thank you for what he gave us and be grateful. But it’s only good the first time. After that it’s time to be done.”
Then I worked her to the point of a saying “Thanks mom for the ice” and unfolding her face so we could get in the car.
But as I was holding forth to this fussing little girl about the nature of things, I commiserated with her. And of course—I felt conviction.
The Toddler’s Gluttony and Me
Only the night before, I’d been seized with my own version of “I wish they had some more.”
Justin and I had been away over the weekend for a friend’s wedding. I’d left all three kids for two nights for the first time, and it had been blissful. After months of quarantine, battling mold issues in my house, and canceled events, all my eggs of anticipated pleasure had been put into the one basket of that weekend. And in the end, the eggs were everything I hoped. We luxuriated in restaurant food, coffee shops, reading, talking, and dancing at a real live wedding.
And then—just like that—it was over.
And I was back home. I told myself ahead of time to watch out for the crash. I told Justin ahead of time, “I’ll probably be a bit low if I don’t watch out.” I prayed for my attitude and his, and mentally walked through the exercise of picking back up with the kids and reconnecting. But still, as I put the baby into the crib and trudged downstairs, my mood crashed.
I wish they had some more.
I wish it was time for some more smoked brisket nachos and grapefruit IPA. I wish I had a way to make that superfood latte with drip coffee; I wish we had more time and better restaurants. I wish I had more rest. I wish this mold cleaning wasn’t making me feel powerless.
In other words—I’m not ready to go back to normal. I’m not ready for life after shaved ice. Maybe what I really need is a donut.
When I look at my three-year-old with a bad attitude, it’s hard not to see myself. I’m still the three-year-old who wants God’s good gifts to continue indefinitely. I’m still the three-year-old who hates delayed gratification. I’m still the glutton who wants every meal to be a feast, every night to be movie night, every treat to be repeated ad nauseum.
Cycles of Blessing
I still struggle to understand God’s good design for his children.
He brings us pleasures in cycles, in seasons. There’s truly only one first time for each gift he brings. Then that first time is over, and it won’t be the same on the second, third, or fourth go round. The diminished pleasure may trick us into diving deeper, hoping to bring the first bite back. But he’s designed pleasures so they must be picked up, enjoyed, and put down in favor of something more suited to changing time and place. There’s a time and place for snow cones. There’s a time and place for veggie soup. There’s a time and place to sit and relax in a coffee shop. There’s a time and place to sweep the floor and wipe little mouths.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
The easy pleasures, like snow cones, are the ones we tend to want to recycle until they’re no longer blessings but burdens. The harder pleasures—like laundry, exercise, or Bible study—we don’t usually get stuck repeating until they’re drained of virtue and enjoyment.
Gluttony tends to attach itself to those easy pleasures. The fool (or the toddler) sees no reason to ever stop. If it was good the first time, why should I ever say no to it again? “Again! Again!” says the fool (or the toddler). But it’s not time for again. It’s time for something else. It’s time for a difficult conversation or an afternoon nap. It’s time for scrubbing the sink. It’s time for answering an email. It’s time for a cup of water.
And one of the reasons we tend to respond to gluttony with asceticism is that we don’t understand life as a series of cyclical, seasonal gifts and responsibilities. If something is bad to eat at every meal, we think, then it must be bad to eat at all. If vacations aren’t supposed to be the way we live our everyday lives, we think, then how could it be right to ever go on vacation? So our solutions tend to be heavy with rules and total amputations. We can’t imagine another way of escaping our gluttonous appetites than to never again touch those things that make us feel gluttonous.
But like the three-year-old pouting her way across the parking lot, who sees only the loss of what’s behind her, we must learn to see our heavenly Father’s generosity for what it is. He loves to give us those rarer pleasures—vacation, snow cone, party. And he loves to give us those other pleasures—homework, salad, weekly prayer meeting.
When he gently moves us from the snow cone place and into the laundry room, he isn’t being stingy with us. Neither is he trying to show us which of his created blessings are safe and which are evil (1 Tim. 4:4). He’s blessing us in one way, and then he’s blessing us in another. Even in pain, he is blessing us. In these seasons we don’t prefer—whether they’re truly painful or just plodding—he’s using the season to work us into the image of his son with the patience of a father who knows the end (2 Cor. 3:18).
And how much better if we could look in his face as he leads us across the parking lot and say, “Thank you, Father. I’m ready Father. I enjoyed that, Father—now help me with the next thing.”
[NOTE: For more on the joyful enjoyment of God’s gift of food, try Tilly’s new book, Broken Bread: How to Stop Using Food and Fear to Fill Spiritual Hunger.]