Over the past nine years of motherhood, I have discovered that being a parent offers a beautiful, often humbling, perspective on God the Father. In no way am I referring to my personal parenting, which, despite my best efforts to model the perfect love of God to my children, remains a constant battle with my flaws and is like looking through a magnifying glass at my own weaknesses. The fact remains that if you want to spend your life watching your own glaring faults painfully realized in another person, by all means, have children. I suppose they might get some of our good qualities too, but those don’t often shine quite as brightly to us. In spite of that, parenthood is an incredible gift from God because it gives us just a tiny, minuscule glimpse into His immense and perfect love for each of us.
A few weeks ago, after a brief lesson on simple machines, I sent my children out to play in our yard. It was a gorgeous, unusually warm December day, and if they stay inside while I wrestle shoes onto my two-year-old, the task takes ten times as long, and we miss our window of opportunity to enjoy a much needed recess. I was taken aback when I walked out of the house with my finally dressed youngest, only to find that they had apparently been paying close attention to the lesson. They had, in my FIVE minute absence, rigged up a pulley system over a branch in our tree. The oldest was pulling one end, and to the other end he had affixed a tricycle, onto which he had coaxed his younger brother into sitting. He had already successfully gotten the tricycle off the ground, but this go-round, he wanted to see if he could hoist his younger brother all the way up into the tree.
I realized at that moment that (1) I needed to teach my younger children about making good decisions, and (2) children will find incredibly creative ways to cause great bodily harm to one another. I ran over quickly, ordered the younger child to get off of the tricycle (much to his dismay, see number 1), but not before I snapped a picture, of course. The day’s fun wasn’t over—we found some bricks in the backyard and had contests to see who could lift the most bricks in the seat of the tricycle. It may not have been quite as fun or as exciting as being yanked into the air on a tricycle—a short-lived moment of terrifying exhilaration—but it also did not end with a trip to the Emergency Department. With three boys in four years, I call that a win.
Much like that tricycle-pulley incident, God gives us rules—first the ten commandments, then the law of love, offered us by Jesus, which is clarified through both biblical exegesis and thousands of years of brilliant theology, compiled by the Catholic Church—to help guide us in this life. Like my older sons, I think we can often find ourselves thoroughly convinced of a seemingly good, but perhaps, from a larger perspective, quite harmful idea. God, our loving and ever merciful Father, does not delight in the suffering of His children, so He offers us guidance about how to form our consciences and make good, healthy decisions, so that we might not live in fear, but can live in true freedom.
While God provides us with personal wisdom and the teachings of Catholic Church to follow so that we can do our best to avoid the injury, He also, in the event that we, in our hard-headedness, make a decision that goes against the moral truth He has revealed, He provides us with the balm to heal the wound our decision caused: the sacrament of confession. Of course, confession heals us spiritually, but often we are still left to deal with the life consequences. It is beautiful to know that , like the perfect Father He is, God never says “I told you so.” He does not rejoice in natural consequences (of which I may sometimes be guilty…). Rather, He holds us close to Him, as only an all-loving Father can, while we face those very difficult moments.
Unlike God, our perfect Father, I do sometimes appreciate natural consequences when they help a child to understand the effects of his decisions; however, I hate to see my children suffer. I remember being a brand new mom. My oldest son was only two months old, and those two months seemed to contain, for me, lifetime’s worth of education. I had this tiny little thing, who depended on me to keep him alive, and I loved him with a love I had never known before. It was as though God had given me a whole new heart that was capable of a whole different kind of love - a love that, in this life, might be as close as I can come to unconditional love. I had to take him to the doctor for his first round of vaccinations. I was nervous, but I knew it was better for him to suffer this temporary pain than to contract one of the terrible illnesses from which it would protect him. I held his leg still, just as the nurse advised, but when all was said and done, I think I cried harder than he did. Watching that needle invade his tiny leg, hearing him scream as though I had failed in my motherly duty to protect him—it turned my stomach in a way that medical things generally don’t. I ached in a way I wasn’t prepared for. The only reason I did it was because I was protecting him from something more harmful, something his tiny precious baby brain could never understand. He just knew his leg hurt, and I didn’t stop it.
I periodically reflect on this memory, especially when I’m the suffering infant. Over the past few years, there have been times when I’ve had to carry or watch someone I love dearly carry a cross that seemed too heavy to bear. Whether these crosses came in the form of physical suffering, emotional heartache, or grieving the loss of a loved one, they can reveal the weakness of our faith. It reminded me of the arguments I have heard from atheists who justify their lack of belief in God because no all-good, omnipotent God would allow the incredibly intense, sometimes relentless suffering we can find in this world—not if He really loved us. We know that God never inflicts suffering upon us, but He does allow it, but only if it is accomplishing or providing an opportunity for some greater good to occur. God does love us and, as much as it confounds me to say it, He loves us even more than I love my children. It must be incredibly awful for God to watch us suffer some of the crosses we must suffer in this life - whether as a result of a bad choice or when we are completely blameless, as in the case of Job - and yet, He does. Often to a surprising degree, He allows us to suffer.
What we cannot understand while on this side of Heaven, is the incredible plan He is accomplishing for us through those very crosses we invariably hate. Perhaps He is protecting us from becoming too distracted by the lies or temptations of this world by helping us stay focused on the eternal life that awaits us. Perhaps He is asking us to suffer a cross for the sake of another soul. Perhaps He is offering us a chance to grow closer to Him in His own passion. Whatever His reason, we have to have faith that He is suffering with us as our Father who loves us, and that He would not allow it unless it was necessary for our holiness. St. Faustina wrote in her diary that if the soul could comprehend the value of our suffering on earth, we would spend our entire lives begging for more opportunities to suffer. I doubt that I’ll ever know quite that degree of holiness, but I hope and pray that I can offer my crosses, small and big, to God, trusting that He alone knows what is necessary.
God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that humanity needed a very clear way to understand something so mysterious as unconditional love. I think that the greatest blessing of parenthood is learning to love in a completely new way, and, in turn, learning how loved we are. I am so grateful that, amidst all the dirty diapers, tantrums, whining, fighting, disobedience, and total and complete obstinance, God has blessed me with this vocation to see how on earth it could ever be possible for a God so good as ours to continue loving such a flawed and imperfect person as me.