If you’ve been following my posts lately, you’ve probably noticed there are quite a few, like this one, discussing a lesson I’ve learned from my son. He’s a toddler, so conventional wisdom would say he should be the one doing the learning, but every interaction we have takes on a greater meaning to me. I very much believe God crafted the world around us in such a way as to see a reality beyond this one. I don’t always agree with Platonist philosophy, but when I do it is usually on this point. So, when something comes natural to me as a father, it makes me wonder, is that not some inkling of how God, Who is extensively described in Scripture as a Father to His people, relates to us? Of course, I’m flawed, so anything I do, even if in imitation of my Creator, is just looking in a mirror darkly or a poor facsimile. But it is something, and today I want to talk about love.
Recently my mom told me about a news story in which a toddler in England was taken into the woods by some older neighbor boys. They then proceeded to torture and kill the toddler for fun. Rage and disgust are pretty natural reactions to such a story (which I haven’t been able to factually verify, though I have no doubt our broken world is legitimately filled with similar tragedies). What I came away with wasn’t just anger over injustice and evil, it was the consciousness that the little boy from the story was roughly the same age as my son. I couldn’t imagine my little guy…
I suppose I should confess something: I’m kind of surprised by my love for my son. Not the depth as much as the nature. Not only do I flinch from imagining him a victim, but I intensely hate the idea of his sadness. The other night I had to take away some toys, because I had told him if he insisted on lying to me about something I knew was a lie, I would have to take the toys for the night. It wasn’t even all of his toys and he was about to go to sleep for the night, but I felt wretched when I followed through with it. Looking at his little head hung and hearing him ask if I was going to take his favorite stuffed animal (the one he never is more than a few quick hops away from), I felt like a monster.
You see, before we had our son, I always imagined parental love to be a little more possessive. Like my son is mine and that is why I’m so fiercely protective and selfless. Which, as it turns out, was really dumb to think. It’s so much more than that and as irresistible and intrinsic to me now as my own heartbeat and gravity’s pull. I’m protective of him, because I can’t stand the thought of him hurting or the spark I see in him fading (he is generally a very good boy and most always happy). Parental love really isn’t about possessiveness at all. Here are some things it does seem to be about and they are all interrelated:
- Protective – I want to shield my son. Guard him from all harm and suffering. I know I can’t, but all the freedom I formerly intended to open-handedly bestow to him, I can’t imagine being so complacent about now. So much evil and corruption is in our world, I feel the need to check every door ahead of him, pad footsteps, and take each corner slowly. God is described as our strong tower (Proverbs 18:10), our deliverer (Psalm 18:2), and a very present help in all our troubles (Psalm 46:1). He wants to and does protect us from everything that could overwhelm us (1 Corinthians 10:13, Romans 8:35-39)
- Instructive – I need my son to listen to me. Not because I have an ego necessitating I always be heeded, but for his safety. For his well-being. I want him to have the best, do the best, be the best he can be and I simply have a larger view of land’s lay than he does. So, I try to guide him, even when it means feeling mortally wounded for exacting the most minimal of punishments. I think that is a bit like God. God isn’t looking on the world happily executing judgments against us, though strictly speaking He has every right to do so. Rather, He is long-suffering, “not willing that any should perish,” (2 Peter 3:9). Even when He does execute His judgment it is always meant to be instructive. To pull us back from a path we should not walk. Like when I make my son sit in timeout for not listening at home, because I know when we’re in a busy parking lot listening could make all the difference. Love, not any binding obligation, moves God to seek the best for us.
- Hopeful – Love “bears all things, “believes all things”, “hopes all things.” (1 Corinthians 13) I want the very best for my son. Whatever it may be, I hope for my son to experience good. For him to listen and understand my intentions in protecting and instructing him, so he grows up as pain-free as possible. It’s significant that Christ is shown to be knocking at the doors of individual hearts (Revelation 3:20) seeking to come in and show us to the fullest fulfillment of His hopes for us.
- Patient – I don’t expect my little guy to do everything he should right away. It takes time and I know God shapes His children. Gradually bringing us closer and closer to the completion we’ll experience at Christ’s return (Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 2:7-10).
- Sacrificial – Though I have so many hopes for my son and have patience to bear them out, who he becomes is ultimately his choice. It could be possible to keep the choice in my own hands. I could lock my son in a room with no windows, control everything to which he is exposed—what he eats, reads, sees, etc. What sort of life is that? I think in the same way, God chose to give us free will. It gives us the capacity for evil and rejecting Him and is a choice often questioned by skeptics. But knowing the alternative would be to leave us in a bland world devoid of the depth of feeling we can experience when freely following Him, how can we fault Him that choice? And like the Lord, as parents we can try to guide our children, loving them fiercely in the ways I mentioned, with the knowledge it may and likely will require great sacrifice on our part. The Lord certainly accepted that sacrifice was part of our relationship with Him, standing as the deepest expression of His love for us. If this desire to see my son be well and thrive is so strong in me that I readily imagine myself suffering the worst things possible in his defense, then how much more must that be true of God for His children? Isn’t Christ’s sacrifice exemplary of just that?
I know, just as I’ll ultimately fail to explain my love to my son, I have and will always fail to capture adequately a description of God’s love. Love, true love, is such a robust word it encompasses so many actions and feelings and desires: patience, kindness, forgiveness, understanding…active and encompassing all of one’s efforts. True love is not blind. It is not unaware of shortcomings and faults, but sees beyond them to the beauty and worth of its object. God is love (1 John 4:16) and it is a privilege to mirror even a fraction of His love when I see my son.