Establishing Dominion Over Our Own Piddoh Foh-Otts

One of the greatest joys of childhood is being allowed every so often to rearrange the furniture so as to construct an impregnable fortress of pillows and couch cushions. Our son Elijah is only three-and-a-half, yet he already understands that when Daddy gets home from work and participates in the fort-building, there are zero limitations on what can be scavenged to build the perfect line of defense against hostile toy soldiers, enemy stuffed animals and a phalanx of older sisters.

Thus far, however, Eli’s ability to fully articulate his plans for total world domination, beginning from our living room in Columbia, are somewhat limited. As of this writing, the word “pillow” comes out as “piddoh” and – bet you didn’t know this – it turns out that the English word “fort” is actually two syllables, the R is silent, and thus it is properly rendered as “foh-ott.”

What my son may currently lack in his grasp of spoken language is made up for by his energetic enthusiasm for tipping over toy tables, dragging chairs and couch cushions into a corner and daring the world to try to dislodge him from his carefully-constructed stronghold. Nehemiah may have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in an astonishing 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15), but I have to wonder if his crew might have cut it down to 40 days or less had Buddy Eli been on hand to help. (Something to consider…)

Kids are a huge blessing from God in so many different ways (Psalm 127:3-5). Sure, building a fortress of pillows and couch cushions may temporarily mess up the living room, but I can tell you that it does wonders for the heart of a middle-aged man. Another (perhaps less obvious) blessing that small kids provide us with is that they tend to hold up a mirror and cast our own behaviors into sharper relief.

Simply stated, kids get wildly excited over things we think are mundane, they take things we say far more literally than we intend, and (best of all) they make no attempt to cover up the true desires of their hearts. “I want ice cream now” is not something you or I might typically say during dinner at a friend’s house, but the average three-year-old has no problem letting everyone know when it is time for the frozen dairy treats to be served.

Likewise, most small children have no qualms with establishing and maintaining ownership over toys, cookies or (in my son’s case) the latest version of a couch-cushion fort in our living room. After work one day recently, I was talking to my wife and absent-mindedly throwing together a really cool fortress in our living room. Once I put the final touches on it and declared it finished, Buddy Eli immediately threw in all the toys he thought required the protection afforded by a wall of couch cushions and throw pillows and then ran in himself, loudly declaring to everyone who happened to be home at the time: “This is my foh-ott! Hey! You guys! This is my foh-ott, Okay? Okay?”

The parallels in my own life are perhaps more obvious than I would care to admit.

Just like Eli, my own heart wants to rush into “forts” that I did not build nor can I reasonably hope to maintain…and yet somehow I want to claim them as my own anyway. Like him, I too would like to stand in the midst of something wonderful (perfect family, rewarding career, financial blessing) that I did not create and loudly proclaim it to be my own. “Hey, you…yeah you, innocently passing by on your way down the hallway…this is my fort, okay? Are you clear on that? Do I need to set you straight on this issue?”

As we get older, we (hopefully) get a bit more subtle about our tendency to claim things that do not ultimately belong to us, but the heart-level dynamic is almost certainly identical: “Steer clear of my pillow fort, mister.”

I had an opportunity recently to hear Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan talking about his new book, Counterfeit Gods, and the relentless tendency of the human heart to grab onto something, anything, as a substitute for an authentic relationship with Jesus. The absence of Christ creates a huge hole in our hearts, and this divinely-appointed empty space is impossible to fill apart from God – yet another of His infinite mercies, that He denies us the rest our hearts crave until we seek our rest in Him (The Confessions of St. Augustine). The Keller interview segments I found so helpful were recorded while he was on the campus of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis; you can subscribe to the feed and grab the Keller segments by visiting the Living Christ Today Web page, if interested. (Scroll down to Jan 18-22 and Jan. 25 for the Keller segments.)

Of course, it’s cute and laughable when a three-year-old loudly proclaims his dominion over ten square feet of tipped chairs, throw pillows and lap blankets. We even see these knuckleheaded episodes as charming and endearing, something we smile at now because we are confident that selfishness will get weeded out as the child develops and matures.

Or will it? I’m not so sure anymore.

We smile knowingly at the petty couch-cushion tyrant, but somehow it’s far less funny when thousands of investors are bilked out of billions of dollars in the latest Ponzi scheme…or corruption and graft interfere with sincere relief efforts in third-world nations…or yet one more politician or late-night talk show host abuses his position and authority to indulge his selfish desires for illicit sex. It is at that point where we realize with shame that we have become a nation of private kingdom builders; unlike Abraham, the kingdoms we seek to build are most definitely not designed by the Lord (Hebrews 11:8-10).

So I am grateful to my Buddy Eli for providing me with a vivid mental image of what I too can quickly become whenever someone tries to grab onto one of my “couch cushions.” He offers me a true glimpse into my own heart as well as the hearts of others, all of us understandably confused by the various cultural messages we receive, staggering about and blindly seeking to latch onto something, anything, that our dark hearts can tie down and brand with the word MINE.

Now whenever someone messes with “my” schedule, cuts me off in traffic or does not serve me in the way to which I am inclined, I can grab a mental picture of myself standing in the middle of my own pillow fort, absurdly proclaiming my ownership of whatever has just been denied me. It helps me to recall that, truthfully, I have nothing that was not first given to me by a gracious, loving God, right down to my own heartbeat (Psalm 139), and that God provided me with my own “piddoh foh-ott” to be a blessing to others, not a self-seeking potentate with an iron fist wrapped around my own priorities.

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