By Kathi Macias
“What About Bob?” has to be one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve laughed my way through it many times, which is highly unusual for me, as it’s a rare film that holds my interest more than once. I’ve asked myself what it is about that movie that intrigues me—beyond the obvious, which is that it’s a story about an over-the-edge neurotic who carries his goldfish in a water pouch around his neck and endears himself to his therapist’s family through his eccentric but winsome ways, even as he infuriates the therapist himself and eventually drives him over the edge. As humorous as that is, the most memorable part of the movie is a simple two-word phrase: “baby steps.”
When Bob learns his therapist is going on vacation and won’t be able to see him for a while, the poor man is panic-stricken. He informs the doctor that he simply cannot function that long without him, so the therapist advises him not to be overwhelmed by the situation but to approach it with “baby steps.” We then see Bob proceeding through the movie, reminding himself at every juncture: “Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps….”
For those of us who are parents, there are few memories that equal watching our offspring take their first “baby steps.” Our oldest son, Al, was a typical firstborn. He took his first baby steps before he was nine months old, and as soon as he realized he was mobile, there was no stopping him. Our second son, Michael, was just the opposite. He much preferred to sit in one spot and point at what he wanted, fully expecting that his older brother would bring it to him (which he usually did, although as they got older Al often used the retrieved object to hit Michael over the head before handing it to him). Michael was nearly fifteen months old before he took his first baby steps, though I don’t doubt he could have walked long before. He simply saw no reason to do so. Chris, the “baby” of the family, was more like Al and walked before he was a year.
Regardless of when our children took their first baby steps, they all had one thing in common: The infants had become toddlers, and toddlers fall down…a lot. Then they cry and holler until the nearest grownup shows the proper sympathy for the newest “boo-boo.” This seemed to work best for Al, since parents are always more concerned when the firstborn cries. By the time the second child comes along, the parents’ “scream reactor” has been toned down. While the first child gets lots of hugs and kisses and “poor baby” comments, followed by cookies and milk, the second gets a quick once-over to make sure there are no injuries requiring a trip to the hospital emergency room, and then a quick kiss on the forehead and a “You’re fine, sweetheart; now go play.” When the third one takes a spill and considers hollering for sympathy, he takes a quick inventory of the available adults, all deeply ensconced in their own activities and oblivious to the toddler’s dilemma, and decides it’s not worth the effort, since previous responses to his cries have resulted in little more than a cursory glance in the fallen child’s direction.
As believers, our Christian life has a lot of similarities to the different stages of childhood. When I became a born-again believer at the age of twenty-six, my excitement and enthusiasm far outweighed my wisdom and discretion. I was a “baby” Christian, an infant, at best a spiritual rugrat who spent most of my time on my knees, learning the basics, such as how to crawl from point A to point B. But I soon outgrew that stage, becoming a “spiritual toddler” who was learning to walk and, as such, fell down…a lot.
But that’s all right. Micah 7:8 declares, “When I fall, I will arise,” and it definitely applies to the many times in our Christian life that we fall. Much like toddlers learning to navigate physically, we do the same spiritually. And like those toddlers making progress, so long as we stay on the path and keep following after the One whose footsteps will lead us safely home, we soon realize we are falling less and walking a lot more steadily. In fact, so long as we don’t give in to the temptation to refuse to get up and to remain on the side of the road, crying and bemoaning our fate, we might just look back and realize that others are starting to follow in our footsteps as well.
So take those baby steps, beloved, and don’t let fear (or goldfish or anything else!) stop you from continuing down that narrow path toward Home….
***Adapted from How Can I Run a Tight Ship when I’m Surrounded by Loose Cannons? (New Hope Publishers, 2009).