8f0d6a71a53a8ffa2b2e2ce612977283I have two boys, ages 8 and 5, and they are delightful. No, really. They are. I think some people find that hard to believe, but they are what my parents’ generation would call “good kids”. I just call them easy kids. They get along with each other more than I thought possible for two human siblings, and they are generally kind, sweet kids. I would sometimes like to take credit for their behavior, but mostly, I’m just grateful.

The last two summers have been particularly great. We are in what writer Julianna Miner has dubbed “the sweet spot.” The kids are out of diapers and past pacifiers, but they are still young enough to want to spend time with us, and they think we hung the moon. They’re still works in progress (aren’t we all…), but the work part feels less tedious than it did even just a few years ago. I’m trying to enjoy this part for what it is.

My 8-year-old, in particular, is into “helping.” He learned how to make himself scrambled eggs for breakfast, can pick up after the dogs in the yard, and practices the piano without being asked. He wants to help, and often asks how he can be helpful. While this is about the sweetest thing ever, I don’t often appreciate it for what it is when he stands over my bedside before the sun comes up, wanting to know if he can “help,” by maybe making a cake? And could I please show him how? So he can help?

On a recent family vacation, we took daily trips to the pool. My son routinely asked me how he could help, while I was tripping over beach towels and pool noodles. I regularly answered him: “just take your own pool noodle and keep walking.”


I could tell he was disappointed by this very unglamorous task, the same one assigned to his barely-kindergarten-aged brother, who was meanwhile making his own pool noodle into something of an Egyptian headdress. “Isn’t there anything else I can do?” he continued to ask.

“Just please take your own stuff and keep walking, sweetie. Please. But thank you for asking.”

After repeating this phrase so many times over the course of the week, I was struck by how it started to sound, and how he had received it. So many of us want a more important, more special, more glamorous task. Harkening back to my son’s earliest love, Thomas the Tank Engine, we all want to be the Most Important Engine on the Island of Sodor. But somebody has to do the unglamorous work of shunting trucks and hauling freight. Or in our case, getting along with one’s brother and hauling one’s own pool noodle.


Micah 6:8 reminds us that all that is required of us is “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” Sometimes, that might look like something exciting and exotic, but in our little sweet spot of family life, I had to remind my son, and myself, that plodding along actually is very helpful, even if it wasn’t the type of help he thought he should be giving.

Going a step further, I appreciate that my son continued to ask me how he could be helpful, and (this is important), he listened for the answer. When my sisters were young, they decided to be “helpful” by buttoning up all of the shirts in my grandfather’s closet. You know, so he wouldn’t have to do it himself when he got dressed every morning. Needless to say, my grandfather was not feeling very helped, although I do think he got a good laugh from their efforts, and they were ridiculously pleased with themselves. How many times, I wonder, have we made similar “helpful,” well-intentioned gestures, ridiculously pleased with ourselves for our spectacular efforts, but not really all that useful because we didn’t ask what would be helpful and listen for the answer? How would God be better served if we had just picked up our own pool noodle, so to speak, and walked humbly with Him?

Fortunately, when we trip over our pool noodles, or snap at the same question being asked too many times, or blow too much steam out of our Very Important funnels, or button up shirts that really don’t need to be buttoned, we still get to walk along with the God who, as the hymn puts it, is “our help in ages past”. Today too.