They say that when you become a parent, you learn about God from a whole new perspective. You begin to understand the love God the Father has for us, His children, through your love for your children. Recently parenting did indeed teach me about the love of God — but I wasn’’t the one mirroring the Father’s image. Instead, it was the way my seven-year-old son loved me that gave me a glimpse of how God loves me.
Six-thirty a.m. on a school day. No amount of sugar-coating will make it less ugly, so I’ll just be frank: I threw a colossal temper tantrum. Complete with name-calling and kicking a kitchen cabinet. I yelled. I slammed dishes around. I shamed and belittled a seven-year-old. Just seeing this description of myself in black and white makes me want to crawl in a hole … but there it is.
By the time we needed to leave, I wasn’t yet truly feeling sorry. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t have a sincere desire to repent and reconcile with my kids. I was still angry — a combination of anger over the original trigger, and anger at myself for acting so irrational and out-of-control. Mercifully, I had a moment of clarity, realizing that if something happened that day, and the last interaction I had with my son was this shameful tantrum, I’d never be able to live with it.
So I knelt down and looked in his eyes. I told him that although I had been angry, that didn’t make it okay for me to yell at him and call him a baby, and I was wrong to treat him like that. I apologized and asked him to forgive me.
Elijah didn’t hesitate to extend forgiveness. It frequently blows me away how quick my children are to accept my apologies, even when I’ve been horrible to them. I hugged and kissed him, and also hugged and kissed my four-year-old (who had suffered collateral damage from my tantrum, receiving a few harsh words of his own for minor things that ordinarily wouldn’t have been such a big deal), and we got in the car.
While the instant forgiveness was beautiful and impressive, that wasn’t what struck me hardest. The really remarkable thing happened later that morning.
It was my first opportunity to volunteer in Elijah’s first grade classroom. I went in at 9:00 a.m., and when Elijah and his classmates filed in from gym class, they found me sitting at a table in the back.
And despite the terrible morning we’d had — despite the inexcusable way I’d treated him just a couple of hours before — my son was thrilled to see me. He was excited to claim me, to identify with me. He wanted all his little friends to know that “Miss Amy” was his mom. He did a great job acting normal, not going crazy or being super distracted by my presence, but again and again, he’d shoot me a glance from across the room and grin big.
I only stayed for an hour, but I thought about the pride in Elijah’s eyes, the joy in his smile, for the rest of the day. He didn’t look at me and think, That’s the crazy, angry mom who screamed at me and made me feel sad this morning. He saw me and delighted in me. He saw me and welcomed me. He saw me and thought, That’s my mom! I love her! It’s so great that she’s here with me!
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter that I have a yelling problem. I’m not saying I don’t need to work on that. But in the midst of my messy, ugly brokenness, God had a sweet picture for me. Through the unconditional love of my seven-year-old son, I think He was showing me:
When you sin against Me, I see the beauty of My Son in you, overpowering the ugly parts of your heart.
When you sin against Me, I welcome you with open arms.
When you sin against Me, I still love you. I still call you Mine. I am so glad when you want to be with Me.
It was my son’s unhesitating delight in me, despite my sin, that melted my heart. I didn’t repent when I belittled myself internally: You are not fit to be his mother. How can you treat him that way, you jerk?! Believe me, those words pounded in my head. But when they did, I felt only shame and disgust, which merely fueled my anger. It was seeing Elijah’s smile that made me truly repentant about how I’d treated him. It was the love in his eyes that triggered sorrow over my sin.
I want to model unconditional love and quick forgiveness toward my kids. But in order to get there, I first have to learn to rest secure and confident in the Father’s unconditional love and quick forgiveness toward me. His response to my ugliest sin is to stretch His arms wide and invite me to His throne of grace where I’ll find mercy. And I can love my sons well only when I realize how wide and long and high and deep is His love for me.
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