“You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think God who conceived you in love will be even better?”Matthew 7:11 MSG
Our first understanding of God comes through our parents, especially our father.
I grew up in a loving, secure home with two parents who, like all of us, did the best they could with what they were given. My dad has worked hard every single day of my life, waking up early and coming home late. I am not sure my dad has ever truly rested from work since he started his business. He is a loving father, a father who gave his all to make sure we had what we needed in life, but he was often a distant father, exhausted, preoccupied, and consumed by his job.
As a child, I imagined God was not unlike my dad—loving, but distant, the maker of the universe, too preoccupied with and consumed by the rest of the world to make any time for me.
When I became a parent, I started to see some of the same patterns emerge in the way I parented my kids. Ambitious and determined to prove myself as an exemplary employee, my mind was often preoccupied with whatever I left undone at my desk or in my inbox. When email became easily accessible from my phone, I could carry work home with me. The boundaries between home and work dissolved even more. My children became background noise. I was becoming the parent I most longed to have a relationship with, creating the same longing in my own young family. If I didn’t do something different, they, too, would see me (and God) as loving, but distant, preoccupied and consumed.
Sometime during those boisterous early elementary days, my understanding of God evolved. I had been so hyper focused on what I felt I lacked from my relationship with my dad that I had spent most of my childhood taking someone else’s love for granted. A mother now myself, what could I learn about God from a mother’s love?
My mom worked from home most of my childhood, taking care of the paperwork for their business. She has been an ever-present source of stability, comfort, peace, and love in my life.
God was also like my mom, pouring out her love unconditionally, patiently hoping for the best for her children, serving us in a dozen different selfless acts each day.
Not all parents offer us such a glimpse into the character of God. Some parents are selfish, broken, angry, abusive tyrants, perpetuating the trauma they endured somewhere in their past. For whatever reason, no one showed up to offer them an alternative glimpse of God, another way to see the world and be healed.
Other parents observed the broken humanity of their own parents and set upon their hearts to end the cycle. Forgiveness and resilience, redemption and grace cloak these individuals and reveal to us even more of the Father’s heart.
Whatever is good, whatever true, whatever noble, whatever right, whatever lovely, whatever admirable, whatever pure things exist in us—whatever is excellent or praiseworthy—these are part of the kaleidoscope of love that is God in us. They’re a shattered mosaic, a stained glass window fused with lead, a kintsugi piece of pottery repaired with gold, these fractured and beautiful pieces of God in us.
We can see God in each other, in our parents, in others, but none other than Jesus gives us the fullest picture of who the Father is, that generous and loving Father who conceived us in love and gives us what we need, far better than we know how to love our own children, though we do love them so.
Maybe that is one reason why the gift of Jesus is so precious. Instead of a shattered, broken, partial picture of God’s love, we get the whole thing, fully God, fully man, the greatest embodiment of God’s love there ever has been. Jesus is the promise that it is possible to be healed, to be forgiven, and to then pour your love out and live fully, live freely, the way God so loved the world.
Points of Reflection
- What was your childhood experience with your parents?
- Have you been able to forgive your parents for whatever ways they fell short? If not, what still stings?
For the Kids
- Do you think God gives good gifts or bad gifts?
- What qualities of your parents do you think God also has?
Every parent makes mistakes, some small and some large. If you still carry the wounds and scars of some childhood memory that has inhibited your relationship with your parent, take some time to pray through it. Tell God what happened. How did it make you feel? Why does it still upset you? The longing you feel for wholeness, for something better in that relationship, is met in Jesus. Ask God to help you forgive your parent, for eyes to see the ways they loved you as best they could, even through their own brokenness. Ask God to show you how much God loves you, wholly and completely and perfectly, enough to cover over a multitude of a parent’s mistakes. Rest in the presence of the Lord who has and always will hold you in love.
Readings Our relationships with our parents and the way they shape us appear in many different books, but none ties our parental wounds so directly to our understanding of God as The Shack by William Paul Young. The Shack was also made into a movie if you aren’t interested in the novel.