Sunday, October 11, 2009

How My Parents Love (and How God Loves) Me

First of all, my parents love me unconditionally. Their love for me is an expression of who they are. They love me because they are loving people, not because I have done anything to earn or merit their love. They have loved me from a time before I was even born, from when I was still inside my mother and could not have done anything at all to merit or lose their love.

There are certainly things I could do that would hurt them, make them angry, and even break their hearts. But their hearts would break, they would be angry and hurt because they love me. When they disciplined me as I was growing up, it was because they wanted me to be happy. Their heartbreak has usually been because of their fear that I might be hurting myself.

God forbid I should do anything to hurt or break my parents' hearts! Because I love them.

But even if I did not believe in their love for me, even if I did not love them back, they would still love me. They would still reach out to me. They would continue to work and pray for my redemption. Because their love for me is unconditional.

This is what I learned from becoming a parent. A parent's love is by nature unconditional, because there's so little that a child can give back in return for love. The love of a child for his parents is conditional love. A child loves because of what his parents give him. A child fears that his parents might stop loving him, because his love for them is conditional. That's the only kind of love he knows. Before I became a parent, I simply had to trust that my parent's love for me was unconditional. But when I became a parent, I suddenly knew.

One may attempt to parse out love. One may attempt to tell a parent: "You should not love unconditionally. You should place conditions on your love for your child, for that child's own good." But that is not how love works. You cannot, by definition, take something endless and sacred, and crop it and parse it out. You cannot turn love on and off. Love naturally defies such attempts to limit it. A parent can never truly cut a child out of his or her heart, no matter what that child does.

But to say that a parent should not love unconditionally is to confuse love and approval. Of course parents do not approve unconditionally of what a child does.

My parents frequently tell me both that they love me and that they are proud of me (two separate things). They accept my husband as their own son. As a couple we are not merely tolerated in their home. We are eagerly wanted, we are wholeheartedly welcomed! We are urged to visit frequently, and whenever we would like! And when we are unable to visit, they come to visit us in our home.

My parents have made it known that they approve of the choices I have made for three reasons. First, because they know me. They have watched me grow up. They have seen me struggle with the choices I've had to make. Better than anyone else in the world, they know my heart. And they know that I am a good person, who desires to make good choices.

Second, they have seen the fruits of my choices in my life. Certainly I have made my share mistakes (and have paid the price for them). But my parents have seen the trajectory of my life -- toward love and responsibility, toward maturity and patience, toward faith and hope. They have see the good blossoming in my life in a stable, faithful, loving relationship that makes both me and my husband very, very happy. They see how I care for him and how he cares for me. They have seen us make very public commitments to one another, and to request accountability from our friends and family. Furthermore, we show our love and respect for them through concrete acts that show that we honor them. All these things have grown into trust. My parents trust me. They trust that I will continue to make good choices because they have seen the accumulation of good choices I've made in the past and continue to make in the present.

Finally, they approve of the choices I have made, because they love me! This is that unconditional love that delights in the happiness of one's children; that is joyful in their joy and sorrows in their pain; that is grateful for their good choices and heartbroken for their bad choices.

In every significant respect, my earthly parents' love for me is a model of my Heavenly Parents' love for me. Their love is unconditional. Their approval is not (because their love is!) But they see my heart, they know my struggles, and their pride and respect for me is what I have earned by doing the very best I can with what I have been given, both the good and the bad. My response to their love with my very best efforts enriches our relationship, though it could never earn their love, which is, always has been, and always will be fundamentally unearned.

Unlike my Heavenly Parents, my earthly parents are not perfect. They are still striving, like us all, to perfect themselves. They can still make (and have made) mistakes. There have even been times when my parents have expressed regret and asked forgiveness for misunderstandings, for judgments made without sufficient information, and for needless pain caused by those misunderstandings or misjudgments.

But that does not change the awe and gratitude I feel toward them, for everything they have given me and continue to give me, and for the way they have modeled the path that I need to follow myself if I wish to return with them to our Heavenly home.

If my parents are proud of the choices I have made, it is because those choices have enhanced my capacity for love. All the classic virtues -- trust, obedience, sacrifice, hope, patience, honesty, fidelity, selflessness, optimism, thrift, self-discipline -- all these things are virtues because they make us more decent, more capable of giving and receiving the unconditional love that makes us like our divine Parents, like the ones of whom scriptures testify they are love.

Law simply for the sake of law is legalism. It cramps our souls, and diminishes our capacity for divine love. That's why Christ relentlessly condemned that attitude toward law. But law for the sake of Love frees, empowers and ennobles us.

I pray for that kind of law, and that kind of love.


Joe Conflict said...

May I just say, this is beautiful to read.

Sean said...

I agree with Joe.