While two days ago I had what I’d call a banner day, where each part of my day was satisfying and complete, yesterday was not so much. At lunch, there was a moment where I had all three children (8,6 and 1) crying, loudly. Way to go Mom. Martha Jane wasn’t allowed to throw her food on the floor, Chad had to finish his school work (all one page of it) and Ellie, well, I can’t remember why she was crying but I think she got caught in the crossfires. Those are the moments, even when I know my enforcement of expectations is reasonable, when I can’t help but feel like I’ve done something wrong because “right” doesn’t look like everyone crying in misery, does it?
Then last night, Ellie was on about her third melt down of the early evening, each time less and less reasonable to me and each time related to not getting as much of something as she felt she deserved. I had just proudly handed her a cup of blackberries with whipped cream piled as high as I’ve ever offered my children, handing Chad a similar one, and she burst into tears because Chad’s had more in her estimation. That was it. No dessert for her. This of course was the death blow to her evening and once we were able to sit and talk about it, her complaint was piercing. Chad disobeyed just an hour earlier and ended up getting what I had first said he couldn’t and the same thing happened with him on this other day in relation to this other thing. In other words, I was not treating them equally and in so doing, communicating unequal kindness and love to them.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:16-17Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:27-28
Here were two different people who were both equally loved by Jesus but treated differently. Thomas was encouraged to touch, feel and grab hold of Jesus. Mary was told not to do so. It wasn’t because one was female and the other male. Thomas’ faith needed to grab hold while Jesus knew that Mary’s faith needed to let Him go. Their heart issues were different, their relationships with Jesus were different and their needs were different. As Ellie and I talked about this, we named individuals we knew who had jobs and were out of jobs, who were battling cancer and surviving cancer, who were living in large homes and surviving in orphanages. Does God loves these separate people unequally? Of course not. But does He do different things with those He loves dearly? Undeniably. Is this favoritism? If so, He is violating His own command that His children not show favoritism.
What I’ve been struck with is that somewhere along the way “fair” took on a higher value than loving personally and uniquely. If I parent Chad, Ellie and Martha Jane exactly the same or in a way they would call “fair”, I would be missing at least one of their hearts completely and probably all of their hearts at least partially. The older brother and prodigal son were tempted by very different things, were attracted to very different idols and were motivated by different things. The older brother resented the celebration of the younger brother because he assumed he was more deserving, was entitled and had not been given what he had rightfully earned. His self-righteousness and self-centeredness and total lack of self awareness of the ongoing generosity of his father toward him were no less problematic than his younger brother’s rebellion. His younger brother just had the new advantage of realizing his father’s mercy and lavish love while the older brother was still blind to it. They needed to be addressed differently as their self-reliance manifested itself in different ways. The dangers they were each drawn to were different and required different approaches. A burn injury and a deep splinter will be treated differently, but both need healing. Kindness and love are not always expressed in equal fashion even if they themselves are equal. Fair and kind are not synonyms and what terrible medical practice it would be if all were treated exactly the same for the sake of fairness.
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9
God is not panicked over different story lines for each of His children because He knows that He is working all things for their good and for His glory. He knew that Joseph’s story line would result in both (good and glory) even when Joseph himself, sitting falsely accused in prison after being unjustly sold as a slave by his brothers, may not have been so certain. The Israelites did not always feel remembered or blessed as they wandered without a home for centuries or were captives in foreign lands, but their storyline ends with an ultimate Son of God through whom all are brought home for good. Paul gave his life in obedience to Jesus’ redemptive work, which resulted in imprisonment, ship wrecks and eventually death. Everyone crying at once feels terrible, but does not mean God has taken a wrong step or done something wrong. The excruciating death of Jesus on the cross was the means of abundant life in a more permanent way than the ark provided salvation through the flood’s judgment. God’s love is consistent with boats in terrifying, stormy waters. God’s love is not diminished by the lack of understanding of His children. God’s love is committed to the health, restoration and abundant life of His children – a far better goal than fairness or simply being perceived as the nice guy all the time.
God’s love is so intimately personal rather than institutionally uniform. He is more committed to bringing abundant life than to His reputation of one who is “fair”. May this kind of unwavering love for me by my Father begin to transform my parenting int that of one with greater love for my children’s abundant life than concern for my reputation before them at all moments of the day. That would be true love and kindness.