Unwrapping the Gift of Kingdom

I looked at my new infant daughter with both terror and awe.

The seasoned nurse saddled with our care told me, “Swaddle the baby. It will help.” I looked blankly at the nurse and my kid. “Swaddle.” She said again. “It will help the baby to feel safe. It will help her to go to sleep.”

Childhood Christmas pageants flashed across my mental landscape. In my mind swaddling meant something like hiding a plastic doll in a wadded up flannel blanket that smelled like church nursery and animal crackers.

Despite my apparent ignorance, the nurse persisted. She placed my daughter in my arms. Her eyes were gazing at mine, but her face was not serene. That new-to-the-world forehead was wrinkled, brows furrowed. Her lips pursed with a set look of determination.

She was beautiful and terrifying.   

As I held her close I could see something wriggling inside the expertly wrapped pint-size person package. Two tiny arms and two tiny fists shot out of their tightly encased white blanket. It was an exclamation of freedom.

I spent the better part of her first two months trying to contain those arms, trying to “swaddle,” her. This child would have no part of it.

My infant daughter was expressing the power of having been made in the image and likeness of God. She was unwrapping the gift of dominion.

The word dominion conjures up images of colonization, conquest and dehumanization. But that is not dominion. That is trespassing. Taking power by force is trespassing on another person’s dominion.

Dominion is what a person has a say over. It is the sphere of influence where what we want done, gets done. As Christian philosopher Dallas Willard put it, our dominion is the “range of our effective will,” our kingdom or queendom.[1]

My daughter had say over her arms and she did not want them swaddled. She had dominion over a very tiny queendom.

As we grow up the range of our effective will expands. Reflection on our lived experience teaches us to govern our queendom or kingdom.

I recently had the great delight of watching a two year old play ball with his older sister. The older sister is a natural helper, often finding joy and affirmation in helping out. In the early days of his life, helping with her new baby brother was within her queendom. The God-given dominion within her little brother is expanding everyday. He’s learning to unwrap the gift. Therefore, their kingdoms collide.

As they played, the little boy declared the boundaries of his kingdom with words like, “no,” and “mine.” His intention became perfectly clear when he said with a shove, “Let me.” Rolled the ball: “Let me.” Caught the ball: “Let me.”

With each roll, catch, or shove, he was learning how to govern his own little kingdom. From the cries of “Let me!” to the confident “I’ve got this,” of my now sixteen year old, this is clear: made in God’s image, we were made to govern.

But we weren’t made to govern alone. Woven into the fabric of who we are is a driving need for connection. From birth we crave the connecting threads of relationship from caregivers. We also crave a deep connection with God.

When I sit with children in spiritual direction I often hear them speak of their experiences with God. I hear their joys, sorrows, their longings and desires. Children jump at the chance to share these with God.

The intersecting threads of dominion and relationship compel children to desire both agency and connection.[2] The Holy Weaver knows this and wants to come alongside children and govern with them.

So how do we help children unwrap the God-given gift of dominion? How do we help them learn to govern their queendoms and kingdoms?

We can begin by teaching our children to talk with God. Talking with includes listening and speaking. It requires time and space that we can reserve for holy conversation.

We also help children by listening to their desires and longings, inviting them to pause and consider what they actually want, just as Jesus asked the blind man “What do you want?”[3] Then we honor their choices within reason.[4]

Most importantly, we share the governance of our own kingdoms and queendoms with God. We model lives lived in relationship with the Holy Guide.

The spiritual life is more caught than taught. Which brings me back to terror and awe. Knowing that God gifted my child with dominion can be frightening. It threatens my false sense of control. It reminds me that I am finite. There is an end to my queendom. I am learning that the best I can do for my two fisted freedom fighter is to offer her what she needs to govern well, to encourage her deep connection with God, and to get out of the way. 


[1] Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, (HarperCollins: SanFrancisco1998), 21.  I will use the word, “kingdom or queendom,” throughout this piece to attempt to communicate the Biblical understanding of dominion. I am aware that this word comes with patriarchal baggage, to say the least. I will continue to think deeply and ask the Spirit to provide a new word. Until that new word comes along we’ll ask the Spirit to speak through these broken words of human wounds.

[2] Agency is the state of acting and exerting power.

[3] Mark 10:51

[4] A helpful discussion on teaching children to govern can be found in Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.