Learning from Littles: Lessons from a Trip to Costco

By Jessica Wolstenholm




I don’t know about you, but so many times I find myself overwhelmed at all that parenting entails. Not only am I in charge of meeting my three children’s most basic needs, but my husband and I are responsible for their emotional and spiritual development. I often feel like I am too young to be making all these “grown up decisions.”

The spiritual formation of our children is a profound gift and responsibility with which we, as parents, have been entrusted. We are given the opportunity to introduce our children to the gospel narrative – to watch it take root, transform, and inspire their own lives. But to be honest with you, a lot of the time I feel like I am blowing it.

One of my favorite Sunday school songs as a kid went something like this: “Read your bible, pray everyday, and you’ll grow, grow, grow. Don’t read your bible, forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.” Did you sing that song as a kid?  

I suspect this message subconsciously tempts me toward quantifying “spiritual formation,” giving rise to constant analysis as to whether what I did in any given day fostered growth or led to regression? Trying to force spiritual formation by doing is exhausting. There are moments happening everyday, profoundly impactful experiences for both children and parents alike, in simply being together. Life is full of teachable moments; perhaps the art is in learning how to slow down so as to be fully present.

A couple weeks ago, my children and I encountered such a moment as we ventured out to purchase flowers for our garden. Prior to stepping foot outside my car and taking on the Costco crowd, I prayed for peace and gave my girls a pre-shopping pep talk. “Girls,” I explained, “There are three of you, and there is one mommy.  Please exercise patience and use respect while in Costco.” They all starred back at me blankly . . . I think they were contemplating the free food samples!

So picture me pushing a massive Costco cart with two of my kids riding inside and my youngest strapped to in an Ergo baby carrier. Our shopping trip was going better than expected and the girls were behaving beautifully. I think I let a bit of pride creep into my heart, and before I knew it, I was walking around Costco feeling like supermom. We picked out our flowers last, and as I went to grab a bag of topsoil I realized the bag was MASSIVE. So I did what any responsible mother wearing her eight month old would do – I tried to load the bag of soil on the cart by myself. Seeing this as one of those “teachable moments,” I said to my girls, “Alright ladies, mommy is about to show you how to be strong and independent. You can do anything you put your mind to!”

I proceeded to fail miserably. And so I brought my daughters close again. “Girls,” I said, “Mommy just tried to do something all by herself, but I need help. Strength is found in being willing to ask for help.  We all need one another.” Humiliated, I turned to a fellow shopper and asked if he would help load the soil onto my cart. He was kind to oblige my request, and within moments we were headed for the cashier.

I didn’t have to force anything in Costco that day for my daughters to experience something spiritually formative. As parents, we are often looking for experiences from which we may teach our children life lessons. What about the ways in which God is using our children to mold and shape our own character? 

I hadn’t meditated on scripture that particular morning, and I didn’t have a bible lesson planned for the day. What happened, however, is that God met us in a moment of living life together. My girls witnessed me fail at something, but as God’s grace would have it, they also saw the beauty in asking for and receiving help.

Recently, I was struck by the words Jesus spoke to his disciples in Matthew 10:40-41. “Whoever receives you receives me,” Jesus states, “and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” Jesus doesn’t elaborate, at least in this little section of scripture, on what the disciples were meant to do after receiving one another. Attention remains on the importance of inviting someone else into your own story. By doing so, two worlds intersect and no matter how similar or different two individuals may feel, they become united together in their own need for help.

Today, you will wonder if you are doing enough. May I encourage you, even as I remind myself, that in receiving your children into your own vulnerable moments spiritual formation is taking place. Be encouraged by the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”