Last night my son went to bed upset. As the oldest child and the only boy, he gets picked on by his mom and dad more than he should. He also gets left out by his two younger sisters, who tend to be more interested in pretending to be puppies than in building with Legos. The details are unimportant, but it was these circumstances that caused him to be so upset last night.
After I put the girls to bed, I returned to Jackson’s room, where I made a half-hearted attempt to cheer him up. (Inwardly, I felt no sympathy for him since I felt he was being irrational—a common mistake of mine when responding to others’ problems.) He would not shake off his own discontent, so I ended the ritual quite abruptly with a terse “goodnight” and left the room, hoping to teach him a silent lesson about “attitude”.
A few minutes later I had already settled into bed with a book, when Liz came in and asked how bedtime went. Feeling a twinge of guilt, but not wanting to swallow my own pride, I told Liz that Jackson was still upset, and that he might like a visit from her. Minutes later, Jackson entered my room with this peace offering (unsolicited by Liz):
I’m still trying to dissect my emotions, but the feeling that seems to overshadow them all is pure awe. Here, Jackson, a real person who feels stress, anxiety, hope, love, disappointment, and anger, just like me (I tend to forget this fact about my children), bravely set aside all of his frustrations with his own marginalized family situation, out of concern for my own emotional welfare.
I believe that parenthood is a sacred relationship that is designed to teach us about our relationship with our heavenly parents. As I have cared for my children, I have felt that quiet assurance that my heavenly parents love me the same way I love my kids. Frankly, while nevertheless special, I expected to have these experiences. What I did not expect, however, is the converse experience of having that same humbling feeling at times when my child expresses his or her love for me, as Jackson did last night—yes, God loves me as I love my children, but God also loves me as my children love me.
Now this picture, drawn by a forlorn seven-year-old, 30 minutes past his bedtime with only a night light to aid him, means much more. It represents the way God, a real person who feels marginalized by those He loves, whose sole desire is our acceptance, sets aside His own feelings of hurt, sadness, and frustration, to express His love for us notwithstanding our own callousness.
This humbling thought reminds me of some stanzas from a poem by William Blake:
Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me,
Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,
Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.