I think I’m still trying to recover from the past two weeks. Sorry I’m not more coherent than I am…
A year or two ago my folks were in town for a visit, and during a drive to get burgers with my dad, he reminisced for a few moments about his dad. “[My two brothers] and I were all very different from one another,” he said. “And you know, my dad, he was a different dad to each one of us. He seemed to know how to be the particular dad that each of us needed him to be.” And then, as his face gracefully broke, he added, “And he was good at being all three of them.”
I made a mental note.
I tend to think that if you are afforded enough time as a parent, and if you have more than one kid, you sort of figure this out along the way. At the least, you realize it in the back of your mind, if for no other reason than what “works” with one kid may not work with another. This becomes self-evident in disciplining a child, and in simply trying to get them to do what you need them to do. But my dad’s point is much bigger than this; it’s deeper than cataloging the obvious results of spankings versus timeouts versus taking away cell phones and canceling sleepovers. It’s really about seeing and connecting with your kids as individuals. It’s about respecting them as people. It’s about helping them learn who they are, how to be who they are, that it’s okay to be who they are, and that you love them no matter who and what they are. One of the greatest things about being the parent of more than one kid is that you learn you can love a kid with your whole heart—more than life itself—and that, strangely, you can love another very different kid with your whole heart—more than life itself—yet the loving is manifested in very different ways. Love is Love, but it has so many, many different ways of being and expressing itself.
And I think there’s more to it than this, too. For one thing, loving your kids is about loving them as God’s children, not as your own. For another thing, loving your kids is about loving them in terms they can intuitively grasp via their own uniquely created nature; about offering them love in ways that they can recognize as loving. And lastly, this isn’t merely about parents and kids—it’s about all of us.
Nearly two months ago I published a post about what it may mean to live a Christian life, and said that a good place to start looking for answers is to ask two questions: what does it mean to love God, and what does it mean to love other people? In my life I am still and always searching for clearer answers to these questions. I find pieces as I bumble along my way, little tidbits and trinkets here and there, and a few of them seem to come around often. Among them are that the people we love do not belong to us; they belong to God. To love them rightly is to love them for who and what they are in God. To love like this requires a tremendous amount of faith, of humility, of patience, of acceptance and of care on our part, because who and what another person may be in God is a great mystery, hidden between that person and God alone, and not even fully revealed to that person. To love a person means, for one thing, to live with him or her in a faith—sometimes a very frightening faith—in the reality of the mystery, and to aid in its discovery. To love another person involves entrusting their life and path to God. To love a person means to help that person entrust his or her life and path to God. To love a person means helping him or her know that God can—and does—love him or her far better than you ever can or will. To love another person is to allow God to love them through you whenever God can, and to get out of God’s way whenever he can’t. Loving a person means believing strongly enough in God’s mystery for them that you do not hide its light under the bushel of your own ego. Loving a person means learning that we are not the One who most loves him or her, nor are we the One that he or she is supposed to love the most. Loving a person means realizing that they do not exist for us, but for God. It means rejoicing in this fact. And it means striving to make it true on Earth, as it already is in Heaven.