A couple of years ago, I asked my 80-something dad, “What was I like as a toddler?” He laughed at the chaotic memory of those days, “Oh, you were always holding on to your mom’s leg, begging to be picked up.” I asked what happened next.
“Well, if she couldn’t pick you up because she was holding the baby, she would tell you to stop crying and ‘be a big girl.’” I am sure these words must have been uttered often because, as he said them, something poked at the depths of my being, as if an arrow had hit a bullseye.
At the outset, I want to tell you, my parents did their best. Three littles under the age of five—two in diapers, one barely walking—seems daunting to me. They were just 26 years old at the time, unprepared and inexperienced. Still, they were kind and caring and responsible. What else can we hope to be at such a stage? And, in truth, anyone who has a sibling has likely shared this experience.
Even so, being the Big Girl was new to me. I was 14 months old when my sister arrived and still a baby by anyone’s standards. I craved the connection that a yearling needs, the attention I had come to expect in the days before my sister’s arrival. Before, I was the Baby, and after, I was to be a Big Girl.
My granddaughter is two. Bouncing with life under a crown of wayward ponytails, she is learning to put language together like a toddler pro. Her demeanor is nearly always happy and fiercely independent. Her face is outfitted with flashing, transparent eyes and a determined rosy pout. Yet if something frightens her or she simply does not like the feel of walking over the grass, she lifts her plump, irresistible arms and says, “I hold you.” It makes me smile every time.
I think about my own experiences with needing to be held. I wonder, who holds whom? When I swing her up into my arms, I provide the support and love she is asking for, yet she is the one holding on, receiving comfort. “I hold you.” This seems right as I imagine what I had been asking for all those years ago. What I often need now. “I want to hold you.”
As a toddler, I am sure I learned quickly that tugging and crying for attention would not get me what I wanted. I can guess that the affirmation received by being a “Big Girl” formed the woman I am today: A woman who is content with just enough attention. A woman who seeks to win favor by being capable, independent, and above all, self-sufficient. A woman who worries that being too much will lose even the just-enough that I have.
Too much feels unwieldy. Too little is better. If more is needed, I can adjust. It is a fine system as systems go, but it requires constant gauging of how much another can handle of me.
I have spent a lifetime saving the rest of the world from the fullness of me and the fullness of my needs.
I wonder, can you resonate?
This may be why I am such a fan of my Creator and the gift of Psalm 139. The opening words of this Psalm swung me up into the curve of their arms years ago. I hold them.
“Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me.”
The Psalm goes on to tell of all the ways we are known, cared for, and protected. It assures us that all the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly parts of us are seen and loved. It asserts that the fullness and neediness of who I am will never be too much for God. That I will never out-need the tolerance of God, never out-demand the love of God, never out-run the presence of God. God has searched me and knows me. God knows my deep fears, my tendencies, my annoying insecurities. God knows when I simply don’t like the feel of walking across the grass. And God is delighted when I come to the end of my independent Big Girl ways, raise my irresistible arms, and say, “I hold you.”
Not everyone responds to the Big Girl message in the same way. The personalities we are born with absorb messages in a myriad of manners consistent with the how, why, and alongside what they were delivered. You may be living boisterously and joyfully into your Big Girl, unaffected with how others receive you. You may be living into that girl with quiet confidence, just doing your thing. Or your Big Girl might be bearing the burden of a childhood or an adulthood filled with the disregard of others.
However it is, Big Girl, Psalm 139 is for you—to celebrate your fullness, to heal your wounds, to realize, maybe for the first time, that you are completely seen and known and will never be too-much-anything for your Creator.
Today, I invite you to raise your irresistible arms to the One who created you and say, “I hold you.” Our Psalm 139-God will be delighted to lift you and allow you to cling as tightly as is needed. On most days, I’ll be there too.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.