Moses and the Tantrum

If everything worked perfectly, we would be only five minutes late, I told myself as I hurried my two-year-old daughter Emily into her winter clothes. She reluctantly put on her snowsuit and boots, but all progress halted as soon as we stepped out the door. When she saw the new snow on the steps, she sat down to play with it, and refused to budge.

Ordinarily, I would have lifted the child up and carried her to the car, but I was five months pregnant, and I knew that lifting my 30-pound daughter would send sharp pains through my pelvis. I let her play for a few minutes while I dusted snow off the car, but when she still wouldn’t move, I alternated between scolding and distracting her. Neither of these worked, and I stood there bewildered. Eventually I took her by the hands and swung her along the sidewalk towards the car, letting her feet rest on the ground between swings to give my pelvis a break from the agony of her weight. "You’re hurting me! You’re hurting me!" she screamed, but when I released her hands, she started marching right back to the steps.

By the time we had crossed the 20 feet of sidewalk to the car, my patience was gone. Pain tore through my body as I awkwardly lifted her into the car seat, bumping her head against the doorframe in the process. As she wailed, I impatiently buckled her car seat around her and shut the door with a bang.

She screamed and I silently drove the car, thinking that her father would have handled this situation much better than I had. He would have said outrageous silly things to distract her from her tantrum, and in the unlikely event that his humor failed, he could have lifted her up gracefully and carried her to the car. Finally, after settling her in the car seat, he wouldn’t have shut the car door with such an impatient bang. Maybe I was wrong, I thought, to ever believe that I could do a good job of being a stay-at-home mom.

In the midst of all this, Moses came to mind. He didn’t think he was up for the job that he was called to, either. God appeared in the burning bush and went on at great length about the miraculous things that God and Moses will do for the Israelites: but instead of being caught up in the holy excitement, Moses started worrying. Whenever he had a chance to put in a word edgewise, Moses insinuated that he shouldn’t be doing this work, or he complained that nobody would listen to him. It was as though the Publisher’s Clearinghouse prize patrol were trying to hand him a ten-million-dollar check, but he was so obsessed with a hangnail on his thumb that he didn’t want to stretch out his hand and accept it.

God went on with his glorious speech, and maybe because of Moses’ reluctance, God started performing miracles, like turning a serpent into a snake. None of this shook Moses out of his worrying state of mind, and when he started apologizing for his speech impediment, God just got mad. God demanded, "Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? have not I the Lord?" (Exod. 4:11)

I realized that, like Moses, I was so obsessed with my inadequacies that I couldn’t see the miracles before me. I looked around and saw glittering snowflakes drifting down around us even though the sun was peeking out from behind a cloud. A woman standing at a bus stop looked at us in my car, and I could see that my daughter was a beloved child of God who might or might not ever know how deeply precious she is. My child and I were breathing together, and loving each other, and living another day, even though we were upset.

Maybe my husband would have handled the situation better, I told myself, but I happened to be the one who was called to do that very small job. A layer of shame was wrapped around me, but I kept peeking through its folds at the miracles that surrounded us and embraced us. Finally, when my attention was elsewhere, the shame quietly fell away.

Elizabeth O'Sullivan

Elizabeth O'Sullivan is a member of Twin Cities (Minn.) Meeting.