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Building Blocks

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Words by Ann Swindell // Images by Dianne Jago

My daughter turned two last month. She’s a pensive fireball; just like me, just like her daddy. She takes everything in through her Wedgewood blue eyes—contemplating, assessing, wondering. She’s learning how to be a part of the larger world, how to interact with others meaningfully, how to give and take and share and play.

We were out of town last week, visiting family downstate. I took Ella to their local library for an afternoon. It has an amazing children’s reading and play area, and she was thrilled to get to climb and play with their puzzles and building blocks. The longer she played, the more children showed up, and I got to watch her interact with kids two and three years older than she. There was a sweet five-year-old girl who took Ella under her wing, showing her how to move chairs and draw masterpieces. There was a four-year-old boy who ran circles around Ella, jumping and yelling as she stood and watched.

And then there was a little boy, maybe five or six years old, who was building with blocks. Ella loves stacking at this age, and as soon as his tower got high enough for her to notice it, she walked over, pulled a red block out of the bin, and tried to add it to his tower. She wanted to join in the fun. She wanted to help.

The boy was having none of it. He yelled a firm no at her, grabbed the block out of her hand, and then, in his quest to stop her, backed up and knocked over his entire tower.

“Look what you did!” he said to Ella. “You ruined it!”

My body tensed. I felt the urge to walk up to the child and tell him that Ella, in fact, never even had the opportunity to ruin it—but because he was unwilling to let her help, he had knocked over what he had been working on.

But I stayed put. And I watched her respond. I’m an involved mama, and I’d do anything for my daughter, but I’m fighting the urge to be a helicopter parent. I’m fighting the urge to fix the world for Ella. There’s only one who can do that, and I want to help her navigate the brokenness of the world with honesty and also with a safe place to land.

Ella paused. And then she walked away, unruffled, and joined the five-year-old girl who was fast becoming her friend. The boy started stacking again, trying to remake what he had built before.

In refusing the help that my daughter was offering—in so carefully protecting what he had been building—the little boy had ruined what he was working on.

I think I know why he yelled at my daughter. He was afraid. He was afraid that letting someone else in on the project would ruin his idea of what it should be, of what he was building.

And I do this all the time too, albeit in more subtle, grown-up ways. When I’m struggling and a friend asks if she can help, my knee-jerk reaction is to tell her that I’m fine. I verbally push her away, am quick to decline the offer of a meal brought over, of the offer to take my daughter for an hour while I work. I’m building this life of mine, remember? Block by block, I’m trying to keep it all under control. If I let someone else help, she might get in the way. She might build in a way I don’t like. The meal might not be something my family usually eats. My daughter might have a hard time being away from me. Her advice might be hard to hear. Besides, isn’t this my responsibility, to keep stacking up the blocks of my life and to make sure it all holds together? To make sure it all works out?

No. It’s not my responsibility to build my life. It’s my responsibility to follow Jesus, and to obey him in all things. It is my responsibility to be a part of the body of Christ, and to help others and let them help me (1 Thess. 5:11). Because I need help, all the time and every day. In my very declaration of faith in Jesus, I am acknowledging that I am a sinner in need of the deepest kind of help—I am acknowledging that I cannot save even my own life.

And when I push others away and refuse to accept their help—help that I really do need—I often end up knocking over the very thing I’m trying to build. I’m too weak and sinful to be able to build a life, anyway. Only the Lord can do that (Ps. 127:1), and only with the help of other believers can I participate in building anything that matters or lasts.

Let us be those that accept the help of a friend who is willing to add a block to what we are building. Let us see her as the gift that she is, and invite her to build with us rather than pushing her away. Let us be friends who build with others, serving them as unto Christ (Eph. 6:7­–8). And let us be surprised when we discover that what we build together will be much better than knocking over our own towers in a desire to protect them.