Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to Me at the time of their disaster.Jeremiah 11:14
“Are you ready to do what mommy says?”
My heart was pounding and my face was red as I desperately tried to maintain a calm voice and retain my composure while dealing with my defiant preschooler.
We had just been experiencing what I hoped to be an enjoyable lunch with my in-laws at a Mexican restaurant, when my child insisted upon having the entire basket of chips and salsa directly in front of him. When I, instead, gave him his own individual portion of chips and salsa, he was furious that he had not gotten his way. He took his pudgy hand and flung the appetizer he had just been served over the entire restaurant.
I was horrified.
My Grandmother would have called this “stubborn behavior.” Dr. Dobson calls it “Strong Willed.” Others might try to label it “Oppositional Defiance Disorder.” Whatever you want to call it, these kids know what they want – their own way – and they don’t mind throwing a tantrum (for a very long time) in order to get what they want.
Pre-parenting, I had the erroneous expectation that my children would rarely cry and always obey. I am not sure what I was thinking. Clearly, I lacked a great deal of experience. Somehow, in my young-adult, teacher-educated brain, I thought that I would read all the books and do all the right things and produce children that also did the right things…always and every time.
It’s embarrassing to say this out loud.
But yes, I was highly delusional.
I thought if I was the perfect parent, I would have perfect children.
Well, maybe that explains everything? How could I parent perfectly when I was not even close to a perfect person myself?
Anyway, as you can imagine, trying to appease a strong-willed child instead of giving him what he wants doesn’t go very well. Giving in to what he wants is even worse, because then you have a monster on your hands.
They kick, scream, and throw themselves down on the ground to try to get your attention and do everything in their power to MAKE YOU DO WHAT THEY WANT… NOW!
So, sometimes, you have to just “wait it out.” And periodically ask them if they are finally ready to comply.
Sometimes they throw chips and salsa all over a Mexican restaurant when your in-laws are watching.
Have you ever thrown a fit with God?
Have you ever found yourself begging, pleading, kicking, screaming…and wondering why He isn’t answering you?
I want to clarify here that there are many times we feel God is not listening to us, and He really is. But there are times when He actually chooses NOT to listen. But why? Under what circumstances?
He answers this question Himself, when the people of Judah – His children – were experiencing the devastation of personal and corporate disaster. Disaster that was actually occurring at God’s command, for the purpose of getting their attention.
The Lord said,
‘It is because they abandoned My instruction that I set in front of them and did not obey My voice or walk according to it.
Instead, they followed the stubbornness of their hearts and followed after (what they wanted)…’Jeremiah 9:13
Sometimes God Chooses Not to Listen to Us Because… We aren’t Listening to Him
I understand that this blog post is probably not going to go viral out of wild popularity. Jeremiah tried to say this stuff and his own brothers (sons of Priest Hilkiah, the guy that discovered the dusty scrolls of the Law of Moses in the temple and gave them to King Josiah, causing amazing reform) turned against him (Jeremiah 12:6) and the people from his own town actually devised plots to kill him in an effort to make him shut up!
So I get it – nobody wants to hear that God sometimes chooses not to listen to us.
But if we don’t want to hear what He has to say or do what He says to do, even though He IS that “perfect parent” who knows exactly what is best for us, why would we expect Him to cater to us or give in to our tantrums?
Why would we expect Him to listen to us, when we are defying Him?
God longs to give us something even better than what we desire for ourselves, but if we aren’t interested in Him, how can we receive His blessings?
God’s heart is not to ignore us, anymore than I wanted to ignore my defiant and disobedient child. He longs to bless us, His children. And I have to admit, I am actually really comforted that the Almighty, Amazing, PERFECT Father had similar thoughts about His children as I had of mine. Listen to what God, Himself, says about the thoughts He had about His children…
I thought: How I long to make you My sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of all the nations,
I thought: You will call Me ‘My Father’ and never turn away from Me.Jeremiah 3:19
God longs to bless us. He longs to care for us, provide for us, hold us, comfort us… Father us…
…but we can resist Him.
We can reject Him.
We can refuse Him.
But why would we?
It makes no sense. It made no sense to God, either. He says…
Why do My people claim,
‘We will go where we want; we will no longer come to You?’Jeremiah 2:31
Why would we ever choose to resist, reject, or refuse His way?
His way is so good.
Yet, we do. And when we do, sometimes He chooses to stand back. He chooses not to listen to our tantrum. He chooses not to hear us complain about the troubles we have brought upon ourselves. He chooses to wait until we come to our senses, calm down, and recognize that chasing after Him instead of chasing after our own will, our own way, (or whatever else we are chasing after instead of Him) is what will meet our deepest need and fulfill or deepest desire.
But while He is silent, He silently pursues. He silently works. He silently woos.
He never gives up on us.
He just chooses to stop listening, in hopes that His silence will expose the futility of our resisting, rejecting, and refusing of Him.
Sometimes God Chooses Not to Listen to Us Because… We Have Refused His Warnings.
I brought them out of the land of Egypt until today,
warning them time and time again
‘Obey My voice.’
Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart.Jeremiah 11:8
Now, any mom out there who has been dealing with a defiant toddler all day, can relate to what I’m about to say next.
Back to the restaurant story… I was there, right? I knew what happened. I was witness.
Anyone who was at the restaurant was witness to how my child was given chips and salsa, yet had refused them. The salsa in the hair of the patrons next to us could prove it.
I, as the mother, could not just sit back and let this happen. I had to DO something to correct this unacceptable behavior. It’s my child. It’s my responsibility. I can’t just let him throw chips all over the restaurant floor and fling salsa into peoples’ hair!
Plus, my in-laws were watching and I needed to prove to them that I was a competent mother… or at least somewhat competent…
Ok, maybe in that moment I would have settled for a 3, with 10 being “perfect parent” and zero being “complete failure, unfit mother, please take her children away from her and put them in a foster home.”
In my mind, I had done what was reasonable, fair and gracious.
I had provided chips and salsa for my child.
However, I had not provided the entire basket, as he desired. Thus the temper tantrum.
Did I not want him to have the chips and salsa?
Of course I did!
Could I give him the chips and salsa?
Of course I couldn’t!
Not because I didn’t want him to have them, but because he wanted nothing to do with listening to me about how he could handle them, if I should allow him to have them.
However, as reasonable as I believed I was being, my toddler was convinced that my actions were completely unreasonable. And his temper tantrum was in defiance to what he determined to be absolutely unreasonable on my end.
What my child believed about me (Mom doesn’t want me to have what I want) turned into complete rejection of me when I stood in the way of his desire.
My first plan of action was to remove him from the table and attempt to get him to calm down in the restroom. That didn’t go so well.
I warned him that if he didn’t behave at the table, we would have to leave the restaurant.
I warned him again..
I gave him several opportunities to listen and change his course of behavior.
Finally, I had to warn for the last time and take action. I had to be a person of my word.
We had to leave the restaurant. As humiliating as it was.
Oh, goodness, I am so very thankful those days are over.
Yes, I had to profusely apologize to my in-laws and exit my screaming child out of the building and drive him home.
I said we would leave, well… now I had to do it.
Of course he begged and begged and begged to return. Not an “I’m sorry” begging, mind you. More of like a demanding begging. I had clearly told him of my expectations for remaining at the restaurant. He refused to follow, and now he was freaking out that we were leaving.
To a preschooler, this is devastating. It’s disaster.
He was missing out on all of the fun of the restaurant. He wouldn’t get a restaurant meal or get to hang out with Grandma and Grandpa. Worst of all, he wouldn’t get the ice cream Grandpa was sure to buy after the meal.
But apparently, it wasn’t devastating enough to convince him to start acting appropriately.
He was still throwing a tantrum.
He wasn’t willing to obey. He wasn’t sorry. He wanted what he wanted, but he wasn’t willing to cooperate.
He had refused my warnings when he had the chance. Now that chance was over.
Sometimes God Chooses Not to Listen to Us because… He Wants Us to Want HIM.
Tantrums can last a long time. But I was willing to wait it out. I was determined to stay calm, but hold my ground. I put him in a safe place and checked in on him every few minutes to ask…
“Are you ready to obey mommy now?”
The spitting and screaming made it obvious that he was not.
I would walk away and stay away just a little bit longer than what I had waited before.
Now, as a young mom, when you are in the middle of this, it can be a little bit dramatic. First of all, you have no idea how long it will really last, and you have this horrible fear that maybe it will last forever and that maybe you are handling it all wrong.
This post isn’t really about parenting preschoolers, but just in case you are that young mom, just chill. Be calm. I promise you – it doesn’t last forever.
However, I felt like it was going to last forever! Almost three hours later, he was still as defiant and oppositional as ever. I felt absolutely helpless. (And maybe a little dramatic).
Yes, I am using the word dramatic again. I can tend to be very dramatic. Maybe that’s where my children get it from.
I grabbed his chubby little hands and fell down on my knees. I began crying (literally) and crying out to God (audibly):
“God please help me to parent this child well! Please help me to know what to do! Please God, get a hold of his heart! Help him to know I love him and I am for him! Help him to know that I want what is best for him! Please God, help him to obey me!”
Although I am a big proponent of prayer, I am probably not going to type this up and put it in a parenting book about how to raise toddlers and preschoolers.
That’s not my point.
My point is, however, that in that moment, for whatever reason, all the refusing, resisting, and rejecting completely diffused. My child suddenly (and totally unexpectedly) threw his pudgy arms around me and his crying completely changed.
His heart was broken.
“I’m sorry mommy. I’m so sorry.”
We sat there hugging and crying together. I told him how much I loved him. I thanked him for his apology and readily forgave him. I reminded him that I really was for him and I had a really fun day planned for us.
“Are you ready to do what mommy says?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m ready to obey.”
God Chooses to Listen the Moment Our Hearts are Right
How do you know your heart is right?
When my children were little, I always “tested” their heart, after every “teachable moment” such as the one described above. I always asked my kids to do something. Something small. Something easy. But something to test their willingness to obey. I knew if they would obey me in the small things, I could trust them with broader boundaries. It was my clue that the “teachable moment” had been effective.
If they weren’t wiling to do the small, little, easy thing I asked them to do, then I knew the teaching time wasn’t over. This was my clue that they needed a little bit more motivation.
So, how about you? Where is your heart?
Is it broken?
Is it repentant?
Does your heart believe that God really is for you, loves you, and desires to shower you with His unbelievable blessings?
Is your heart desperate for Him?
Is He the desire of your heart?
Do you want Him more than everything else you think you want?
Are you willing to do whatever it is He asks you to do?
I get it if you aren’t there yet. I’ve had times in my life, even after giving my life to Him, when my heart was hard. My heart really wanted my own way, and inside I was just like that resistant, rebellious, refusing, rejecting little child.
But let me warn you, as God warned His people through the prophet Jeremiah, it’s a place that leads to brokenness, devastation, and disaster. It’s not going to end well.
If that is where you are, ask Him to change your heart. Because even in that smallest, weakest and feeblest attempt… He’s there. You are admitting that you need Him and that you want Him.
He is waiting. He wants you.
He will listen.
His blessings await as soon as you surrender to His loving care.
And He longs to give you so much more than you ever thought you could desire.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.Psalm 51:17
Suggested Reading: Jeremiah 9-12