Thursday, June 4, 2020

We Have All Failed the ‘Toddler Challenge’

Have you seen the latest social media fad, moms and dads posting videos of their little ones taking “The Toddler Challenge”? It’s pretty simple, but incredibly cute and funny. 

Here’s the idea, if you haven’t seen it: Mom (or dad) sets the smart phone or tablet on video, then sits a little one – between the ages of 2 and 4 – at a table and puts a plate of sweet treats in front of him or her. It might consist of chocolate chips, M&Ms, a donut, jelly beans. Something like that. 

But before little Joey or Lulu can dig in, the parent says they need to leave the room for a minute, and not to touch the candy, cookies, or whatever until they return. Can you imagine what must go through the mind of a toddler? That “minute” probably seems like an eternity. I’ve seen several of these videos, including two of our grandkids, and they are hilarious.

They stare at the sweet treats, do a bit of self-talk – “Mommy’s coming right back” – lean in, or turn away, start to touch them and then, summoning all their willpower, withdraw their hands. One child bent over some chocolate chips and said, “Wow!” then leaned back before temptation got the best of her. Seconds later, when the parent returned, she was praised and then given permission to eat them.

Not all of the toddlers “won” this challenge. One stealthily snatched a couple of jelly beans and then, as soon as her mom returned, grabbed the rest, stuffed them into her mouth and scampered out of view.

Watching these videos, two thoughts came to mind. First, I’m waiting to hear of someone claiming this is child abuse, forcing little children to withstand the temptation to enjoy the sweets until the parent returns. In these crazy times, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. For the record, I don’t see it as abuse or meanness in any way – it’s a revealing exercise in discipline.

The second thought was that in one way or another, everyone one of us has fumbled the “toddler challenge.” In fact, even as adults we sometimes face temptation and then, perhaps after a struggle of the will, yield to it and fall into sin. As has been said many times, “if sin wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t want to do it.”

This is hardly a new problem. It’s as old as humankind. We can find the very first “toddler challenge” in chapter 3 of Genesis. God had placed the first man, Adam, in the garden of Eden, filled with wonders of His creation. Then we read, “And the Lord commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…’” (Genesis 2:16-17).

After creating the first woman, Eve, to be Adam’s companion and helpmate, the Lord left them for a while. In his absence, Satan in the form of a serpent appeared and confronted the first couple. “He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat of any tree in the garden?”’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die”’ (Genesis 3:1-3).

We all know how that turned out. The serpent told them God’s taboo wasn’t a big deal, and they should go ahead and sample the fruit anyway. We don’t know how long Adam and Eve pondered that possibility. Maybe they were like the toddlers, eyeing the fruit, then stepping back and saying, “God is coming right back.” Then moving a bit closer until finally, the temptation became more than they cared to resist.

And we, along with all of the rest of Adam and Eve’s descendants through the ages, have been doing the same. Being instructed by God, or someone else, not to do something we’d like to do, and then deciding to do it anyway.

In the toddler challenge, parents aren’t trying to be unkind. They’re just giving their children a lesson in self-control – and curious to see how well their kids will do during the moments they’re away. Similarly, God doesn’t present us with His commandments seeking to be a divine spoilsport or to deprive us of something good. What He does is test us, desiring to teach and train us in right living. 

The Scriptures explain, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).

Rather than tempting us, or leaving us to our own devices when confronted by temptation in any of its countless forms, the Lord graciously supplies the remedy: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We can’t give the excuse, “The devil made me do it!” The enemy can offer tempting suggestions, and they might seem like such a good idea, we act upon them. But God promises He will always provide what another translation calls “the way of escape,” if we’re willing to take it. So we can say, “I won the Toddler Challenge!”

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