On Free Will and Not Trying so Hard

Bedtime Theology with the 5 yo...  

(While having a late-night snack)

5 yo: Mommy, why did God make flowers?

Me: Oh, good question. Why do you think God made flowers?

5 yo: God likes them?

Me: Well, sure, and maybe for us to enjoy their beauty.


5 yo: Mommy, God wants people to like Him?

Me: Well, yes, God wants us to like and love Him.

5 yo: But bad guys don't like God.

Me: I suppose there are people who don't like God.

5 yo: But God has powers, so God could make them like Him.

Me: Oh, that's an interesting idea. Yes, I guess that God could make people like and love God. But I don't think that's the best way to get love.

5 yo: Why not?

Me: Well, if you make someone love you, it's not a choice. God would like us to choose to love God. I don't force you to love me, either. I would rather you choose to love me.

5 yo: Mommy, I love you.

Me: I love you, too, Baby.

The thing about having a third child is that I am not trying as hard. Cue the mom guilt! My sister is a third child and jokes that there are no pictures of her as a baby. She admonished me to take photos, lest this little one's moments get lost in the tyranny of the urgent. 

So I'm taking photos, and taking time for theology chats with the big kids and sometimes some parts of the house are clean and there's usually food around. But one thing I am not doing is helping my third child sleep. I am not trying hard, at all. He gets a clean diaper and a feeding and then I plop him down and am on to the next thing.

I tried VERY hard to get my older two children to sleep, especially my first-born, who tended to sleep in 45 minute increments around the clock. My second one appeared to be a better sleeper, but I was so afraid of being exhausted that I thought I needed to work really hard to do all the sleep things. There was a lot of rocking, pacing and shushing. 

Can you guess who is the best sleeper? Yup. The third one. Apparently not trying very hard to get your baby to sleep is actually a method that works on some babies. About 90% of the time when I plop that baby down and go, he just sooths himself to sleep. I didn't even know this was a thing.

I mention this because while there are times in life to try hard, there are a lot of times where not trying very hard is the better thing to do. 

There's a famous dialogue between Martin Luther and Erasmus, a Dutch scholar and humanist who was Luther's contemporary. The two men argued about free will and predestination, the latter being the belief that our life's choices and after life location are already pre-scripted. Luther's famous work "The Bondage of the Will" is his rebuttal to Erasmus. The latter believes human beings have free will, or free choice, and can freely choose between good and evil. Luther counters that humans are incapable of bringing themselves to God and cannot achieve our own eternal salvation and redemption. The way come to God, or choose the good, Luther said, is by God coming to us and changing our hearts for the good. In summary, all our hard work to choose good and be good and do good is really not what matters. It's God's work in us that does the good. We may be trying too hard.

Let the reader note that my five-year-old was asking about the matter at the heart of the Luther-Erasmus debate and I gave him more of an Erasmus answer than a Luther one. Whoops!

I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't try at all to do good works. I've rarely met a service project I didn't like and I'm teaching my children to choose good and do good. But there's something in Luther's wisdom that gives me permission to strive less and open myself more to God's love. If God is trying to get in make my heart God's home, maybe I could quit rearranging all the furniture and just sit in awe and wonder. There's a way in which trying not so hard gives us all a good rest. 


  1. Love seeing the picture of this sweet third baby! Thanks for the encouragement to keep working on not working too hard!!


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