“I. DON’T. WANT. TO!!”

The yelling gets louder and louder as she stomps on her bed staring me down with a scrunched up angry face.

“Eliana, you need to stop shouting.”

“WHY?!!”

I slowly back out of the room and shut the door on her rising rage.

I am quivering with my own anger and impatience. I want to just shake her or slap her, make her snap out of it. But as I contemplate these options, my reason overrides my carnal instinct.

I remember that she is only three.

Not even an hour before this outburst (brought on by the life-shattering mandate that she simply put on some shorts—a devastating command, I know) she was standing in the kitchen sobbing to her dad and me.

She had scraped her toes while trying to close a door. The shock triggered instantaneous wailing but also a confusing refusal to be comforted. Her dad tried to console her, which only resulted in even more screaming and shouts of, “Put me down!”

She wanted mommy but my hands were covered in the onion and garlic I was chopping for dinner so I gave her a handless hug and verbally empathized, “Oh no! did you scrape your toes under the door? Ouch! That hurts so much! I’ve done that before. I’m sorry, sweetie, I know it hurts.”

But did my attempt at motherly consolation succeed? Of course not. It simply brought on more angry tears and indiscernible blubbering (even though I had resisted adding, “That’s why I tell you not to play with doors”).

So, there the three of us were, standing in the kitchen with no foreseeable way forward.

Finally, through a hiccup and a sob, I made out her shaky words, “I want someone to pick me up!”

Instantly, my heart melted and I wanted to cry, too.

Here was my precious 3-year-old screaming and refusing to be comforted, all the while dying inside for someone to just pick her up.

“Josh, pick her up, please.”

He lifted his daughter into his arms again and walked out of the kitchen. Slowly, her snotty tears and warbling hiccups subsided. She finally calmed down enough to walk back into the kitchen and tell me all about her scraped toes—again.

Standing alone now staring at the closed door of her room, remembering this earlier episode, a soothing emotion slips through the back door of my hot anger: compassion.

My poor 3-year-old is being torn apart by her uncontrollable and ferocious striving for independence that wars against her deepest need to be close—to be loved, connected, and held.

There are no “terrible twos” or “tantrum threes”—there is only becoming.

My daughter is caught in the riptide of becoming and what she needs most is compassion. As I remember who she is—this wisp of iron will—and as I remember who she is to me—my flesh and blood, my very own—all my compassion is aroused and I determine not to respond in anger.

She needs a safe place to become. A safe place that has boundaries and consequences, predictability and consistency, and endless loving-kindness.

For all the times I’ve screamed at God, “I. DON’T. WANT. TO!” or “Why?!” or stood at the foot of His throne raging and inconsolable and desperate for Him to “pick me up” He has only responded in compassion.

He remembers who I am, that I am but dust.

A flailing earthling striving to become the image of Him I was created to be, ripped apart by my competing loves, led astray by my unholy need for singular autonomy. He remembers, and all His compassion is aroused. He does not come at me in anger. He is the Holy One among us who comes to me in love.

I take a deep breath and blow it out slowly. Five minutes have passed. Time to open the door.

“Do you know why I closed your door?”

“Yes. I was just yelling . . . and hitting you . . .” her voice trails off as she holds up her “hitting” hand.

“That’s right, and I can’t talk to you when you’re yelling. Are you ready to put your shorts on?”

“Yes!”

She jumps up from her bed and starts babbling about her toys as I help her put one foot after another through the offending shorts. For her, the storm is passed and forgotten; she’s moved on to other things, leaving me kneeling in the wreckage. So goes the emotional weather systems of a 3-year-old. I try to shake it off and move on with her.

How God does it day after eternal day I’ll never know. But I’m grateful. So. Very. Grateful.

Originally published on the author’s blog

You may also like:

I’m Just a Toddler and I’m Still Learning

God is For Me

Eryn Austin-Bergen

I'm a globe-trotter, wife, mother, Third Culture Kid, copywriter for non-profits, and lay-preacher. My husband and I are raising one daughter and have a son in heaven. We currently make our home near Cape Town in South Africa. I'm learning to lean into vulnerability (thanks, Brene Brown!) and am rediscovering my love of reading and creative writing.