My whole life, parents, religious education teachers, and priests told me that God was a loving Father. As a teen and college-aged kid, I assumed that I knew what that meant. Parents have lots of rules. They don’t understand why you do what you do. They make you do chores. They constantly give you advice you don’t need. Parents are people who spoil the fun and treat you like a baby, even when you’re clearly a mature, rational, practically perfect adult.
It took having kids of my own to realize what God means when he says he’s a loving father. I’m an incredibly imperfect parent. Still, I can look at my children and understand a smidgen of what it must mean to be the Perfect Parent.
1. A good parent sees amazing potential and unique talents in each of his children. I have 5 kids now, with one on the way. They’re all different, and I love them all. Each child has a spark, a quirk, or a trait that makes him special to me.
God’s the same way, but with every single person on Earth. He thinks each and every human being is as cute, funny and brilliant as my children. Imagine that! He loves the cranky lady at the grocery store and the drunk on the street corner even more than I love my kids, because His love is perfect.
Being a parent made me realize something. If God thinks these other people are so great, maybe I should try to see what he sees in them.
2. Good parents shelter their kids from huge failures, but let them make little mistakes.
I let my daughter try things that she’s no good at. I give her enough freedom to screw up and learn from her mistakes. But I won’t let her try everything she’d like to do. I won’t let my nine-year-old drive the car, go swimming without a life guard, or wander the town festival at 10 P.M. on a Friday night. I want to let her stretch, and try, and learn, but I don’t want her to be injured.
God’s the same way. We always hear that he never gives us a burden that’s too big for us to bear. As a parent, that makes sense. God wants us to stretch, to strive, to grow. We may fail from time to time, but he doesn’t want us to end up totally broken. He protects us from the biggest things, because he loves us.
3. Parents can see the long-term when their kids are mired in the present. My kids are incredibly melodramatic. When something goes wrong, it’s the worst day ever. I’ve ruined their lives. I’ve destroyed their futures. Meanwhile, I know that, in the long run, that family funeral is more important than missing a play date.
God sees all. He’s eternal. We’re mired in time. When we think something has ruined our life, He knows better.
4. Parents know that justice is not a synonym for ‘punishment.’ When my son ate all my daughter’s chocolate, he had to make amends. It wasn’t fair that she should suffer for his bad choices, so we made him spend his allowance money to replace her candy. Then, we kept him off sugar for a week, because we knew that the binge would wreak havoc on his intestines. From his point of view, we were being mean and punishing him. We knew that we were making him fix what he’d broken, and protecting him from further harm.
God’s divine justice is parental justice. When He sends the Israelites into exile for worshipping false gods, he’s intervening to keep them from harming himself even more. When He asks us to do penance, he wants us to help fix what we’ve broken through our sin. It’s not about causing pain. It’s about restoring things to their natural order and preventing further harm.
5. Parents keep their children at home until they’re ready to face the world as adults. I wouldn’t make my children live on their own. They live with me, in their bedrooms and close to their playroom.
This whole planet is God’s nursery for us. We won’t really be ‘grown up’ until the next life. So when we look down our noses at those people who are so immature in the faith compared to us?
It’s like when my 3 year old complains about how his toddler sister is ‘such a baby,’ or when the nine-year-old tells the seven-year-old that she’s ‘just a little girl.’ They’re all kids, and the ‘mature’ ones are still miles from adulthood.
That’s us, in this life. We’re little children. But, like our own children, we’re puffed up with our own imagined maturity. Fortunately, we have the best of all possible parents preparing us for adulthood.