My son Parker is at an interesting point in his life. He is old enough and capable enough to begin to do certain things like putting away his toys and throwing trash in the trash can. So a month or so ago when I opened up the dishwasher to put the dishes away, Parker proceeded to attempt to help me. He started by pulling the silverware out and handing it all to me, piece by piece. It took what felt like twenty minutes to put just the silverware away, but it was worth it. He was so proud of himself! Every utensil he handed me came with an expectant look. His eyes needed to see approval and affection. His heart needed me to be as proud of him as he was of himself. In that moment I was honored to be there to give him that affirmation.
A few weeks ago, he was helping me unload the dishwasher again and had, since his first unloading endeavor, graduated to helping with plates and bowls. The dishes we have are your typical white, ceramic, round plates and bowls with some slight adornments on the edges. Parker looked like he was handling things fairly well, but a few plates in, the inevitable took place. He dropped one of our plates and it shattered into pieces spraying tiny shards of ceramic all over the kitchen floor.
At this point in Parker’s life I know that my reaction will dictate his reaction, so I calmly said it was ok and picked him up to clear him from the danger area. When I went to pick him up, I lost it.
There is no way that he was able to comprehend my thoughts in that moment, but I saw in his eyes something I hadn’t ever noticed before.
He doesn’t talk yet, so I obviously have no way of knowing what he was thinking in that moment, but it seemed as though he felt that he had failed at the task he was attempting to perform and expected some sort of negative response. In my clearest of thoughts, I am able to keep at bay the emotions brought about by impulse. The ones that may seem like typical, non-threatening responses to me, but could come across as earth-shattering or even emotionally-shaping to my one-year-old son.
The point of this story, however, is not about my wins or losses as a parent. I’m still figuring it out and realizing more about myself and about my son every day, and my guess is that there will be a continuance of that for quite some time. My point has more to do with the moment I had with God when my son dropped the plate.
I’ve lived most of my life with an understanding of God based on my experiences with my parents and other parental figures. This isn’t and hasn’t been a bad thing for me at all. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have people in my life that have been honest with me about themselves and about the way that they see and understand God. I couldn’t have asked for a better set up in life as far as my relationship with God goes.
The thing I am realizing, however, is that my view and understanding of God is infinitely miniscule. At this point in his life, Parker has no intellectual economy to understand that his ability to help with the dishes without breaking a plate has absolutely nothing to do with what makes him my son. His success at keeping all of our plates in one piece is inconsequential to how much I love him. Now, this may seem elementary as a comparison of my relationship to God, but in all actuality, much of my thought and practice surrounding my faith sits with some underlying performance mentalities. And in many of my conversations with other Christians around this topic, I see similarities that resound with this idea.
I tend to perform for God and look up at him with expectant eyes. I want the same approval and affection that Parker wanted. In my foolish, childish understanding I think that if I could just hand God an unbroken plate, then he would be happy with me and somehow love me more than he already does.
My emotional/intellectual/spiritual economy is beginning to encompass some of the things I could never have known apart from God giving me a son. God is teaching me things about the vastness of his love for me through moments when Parker breaks the plate. God is stretching my capacity to know true unconditional love through my experiences as a father.
Ephesians 3 talks about knowing the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge so that we may be filled with the fullness of God.
The further I get into being a father, the more I am experiencing a Godly love that surpasses my ability to understand it. Simultaneously I am feeling more full than I have ever felt. God’s love is mysterious. It is all-encompassing. It is abundant. And it isn't earned.