I recently turned 21, and I’m learning that there is a depth and awareness that comes with entering your 20s. The fog of teenage delusion clears, and when you come out on the other side, the enlightening truth of reality as it has always been peeks through the clouds. Now maybe that’s just the prefrontal cortex talking, just 4 years closer to being “fully developed,” but I feel this a new awareness inside me—as if I am more connected to and appreciative of the adults in my life, especially the ones who changed my diapers and taught me how to drive.
Much like many people my age, I’m just now finding out that my parents—separated from their primary role as “caregivers”—are legitimate people. Revolutionary, right? My parents had visions, dreams, and goals of their own—ones that were just as real and raw as the ones I carry today. My mom had dreams of being an artist; my father loved spending his time outside. While they remain devoted to those passions, at some level, they had to sacrifice those ambitions in order to be together and start a family.
While this realization may seem obvious to some, my newfound appreciation for the sacrifices my parents have made not only changed how I viewed them, but it also transformed my relationship with Jesus. My entire childhood, they had been daily models of Christ’s merciful servanthood, and helped me better understand His love in my own life in so many ways. They have loved me in ways both visible and invisible since I was born, and it took me this long to notice.
Though my parents are human and imperfect, their relentless love regularly points me back to the love of God. My mother has cared for and loved me well in a multitude of ways, providing wise counsel when I need it most, and so gracefully walking through my season of preteen sass and backtalk. She listened, heard, and loved fiercely with deep kindness through all of the middle school drama and so much more. Likewise, my father loves me in so many little, imperceptible ways: he sat beside me as I slaved over math homework and taught me how to ride a bike and helped me change a tire on my car. With a quiet kindness, he sacrificed football games, fishing trips, and his own free time to provide for my family and love me well.
All the while, they both faced their own challenges, but constantly helped carry my burdens with great joy and love. Though they were far from perfect, their love reminds me of the love of the Father, one that is so poetically praised in Psalm 103:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust (8-14).
He sees our weakness, and He loves us anyway. He does not have an accusatory spirit. He loves with compassion because He remembers that we are His children, and He is our Father, and He is a good caretaker. Now, I am able to see this picture more clearly in my parents, who, despite their humanity, have done their best to love me in a similar way. Despite my iniquities and shortcomings, they continue to provide and sustain and love at all costs.
As a 21-year-old on the brink of graduating college, filled to the brim with hopes and dreams for my own life, I can’t help but marvel at my parents, and at God: what sacrifice. What grace. If you haven’t before, think about your own parents. Think about the multitude of ways they have loved and sacrificed for you. Put yourself in their shoes and wonder how you would’ve responded. I recognize that not everyone has had a similar parental experience in their lives, and for this, I am deeply sorry. However, it is precisely in these moments where our earthly parents make us feel like orphans that the perfect love of our Father in Heaven shines through and brings healing. All the good and all the bad that our earthly parents are capable of pales in comparison to the love of God which allows us to fully rest in Him.
This begs the question: Why does God sacrifice for us and love us like He does? Why do our earthly parents change the course of their lives for us? It is because of the joy set before them. Jesus loves us so deeply that He endured the pain of the Cross so that we might know the joy of the Lord (Hebrews 12:2). It isn’t always easy, but God and our parents so treasure us that the sacrifices are joyful, not always painful. Parents’ daily love, grace, and sacrifices are reminiscent of the One whose ultimate love and sacrifice is the reason I have breath today. God the Father loves us so much that He sent and sacrificed His one and only Son so that we could be saved and brought home as His children.
I am not yet a parent, but I hope someday to be one so I can extend this same love and grace unto my children—in the same way that both Jesus and my parents have.