You don’t need to spend a lot of time around a toddler before you realize that they have much to teach you. Young children need consistency, routine, so we provide them with that structure, and in doing so, we find ourselves oddly comforted by the predictability of this schedule. They are deliberate in their movements, conscious of how their limbs work and constantly trying out new things: “Can I climb onto this chair? Can I pick up this toy and still hold on to this other one?” Watching them, we go through our day and are a little more conscious of our own movements, aware of the intricacies of our body’s movements that we too easily take for granted. Spend enough time with a toddler, and you may even find yourself making exaggerated facial expressions as a way of expressing yourself, even when you aren’t talking to a child.
And sometimes, though they are entirely unaware of it, little children teach us something so profound that it almost takes our breath away . . .
Elijah loves stairs. He is always delighted once we get to my house, because he knows what is coming next. Stairs up, stairs down. When we get ready to leave again, he eagerly scales the first set of stairs, carefully holding on to the railing, but proud to do it on his own.
When we reach the landing, though, it’s another story. These stairs are wider; they require bigger steps, and there is no railing for him to rely upon. This is the moment that melts my heart every time it happens. We both know the routine–Elijah reaches for my hand, and together we tackle the big stairs, me with the strange, loping gait that is a remnant of my ankle surgery, and him with some combination of determination to make it down this set of stairs and a simple joy at the act of doing this, together.
We were already well into this routine before I realized the profundity of Elijah’s simple act of reaching out for my hand. At not-quite-two-years-old, Elijah knows what he can handle on his own, and when he needs to reach out for help. He is not embarrassed to ask for help when he needs it, and yet he doesn’t ask for help with things that he knows he can do on his own. More importantly, though, he knows that when he reaches out to me for help, that I will gladly take his hand; indeed, it gives me more joy to have that precious little hand reaching out to me than he will ever know. I take his hand gladly, knowing that far too soon he will no longer need me to support him as he takes these steps, and I will be left there, waiting until the next challenge he faces that is bigger than he can handle on his own.
And so it is that with the simple act of reaching out his precious little baby hand, Elijah is teaching me about the importance of community, and the fact that there are times when every one of us needs a hand to take that next step.
He is teaching me about the importance of asking for what you need and accepting the hand that is reaching out to you to offer that help.
Most of all, he is showing me that our Father God is always by our side, cheering us on as we take each step, and holding on to us when we just can’t do it on our own.