Ava Leigh just called out from the room down the hall. “Mommy, I need some gasoline! My lips are hurting! I need some gasoline!”
No one seems to care about the absurdity of what has just been said.
The mommy, my wife, smiles and grabs the jar of Vaseline and hurries down the hall and says, “Here is your gasoline sweetheart. Be sure to get some under that lip. You keep licking your lips like that and they’re gonna fall off!”
We are long past laughing when our young daughter calls the jar of petroleum jelly “gasoline.” When it first happened, we chuckled and immediately, without conferencing on the subject, agreed that we would follow our daughter’s lead and refer to Vaseline as “gasoline” - at least for the time being. It’s not the first time we’ve done this. In her three and a half years with us, we have learned that “girls” are really “doors;” she says she’s gonna “loose it” when she conversely means she’s gonna “use it;” and her request for “milk” sounds like a German trying to clear his throat, “milch.” As a rule, we say it the way she does, knowing that these years are fleeting.
Beyond vocabulary, certain concepts have proved challenging, like the idea of yesterday and tomorrow. These two words are not confined to any span of time. Yesterday can refer to anything in the past and tomorrow to anything in the future. “Mommy, we just did Christmas yesterday, and it’s coming again tomorrow!” How strangely poetic.
And jokes! She has recently started to try her hand at joke telling. They are not funny. Not even a little bit. And yet, mommy and daddy laugh hysterically every time she declares that nonsensical thing she said to be “just a joke.”
And sacraments!! That’s right. Sacraments. On January 19th in morning worship, the church joined together and collectively “remembered or anticipated” the sacrament of baptism in their lives. Ever since, every time I shave and throw water on my face, my daughter asks, “Daddy, why are you baptizing yourself again?”
Thus we go about our lives laughing at jokes that aren’t funny and mispronouncing words and never knowing what we really mean when we talk about what happened yesterday – and, of course, I baptize myself about once every three days! We do all of this without ever stopping to discuss whether we should or not. This is because we understand, instinctively I suppose, that a child learns better when the process is fun and not stressful.
Mistakes are not always meant to be chided, confessed, and corrected. Ava Leigh is learning the dance steps of life and the worst thing we could do is tell her that she needs to sit the dance out until she gets all the moves down! How horrible! How unhuman! Why do we think our dance with God should be any different? Why do we imagine a God who sends us back to the bench after every faux pas? God certainly knows, instinctively I suppose, how to laugh at jokes that aren’t that funny, how to mispronounce words trusting that we won’t actually put gasoline on our lips, how to pull us in closer, with loving reassurance, every time we step on his toes.