Love Changes Everything And Everything Changes Love
Listen to your father who begot you, and despise not your mother when she is old.—PROVERBS 23:22
For the Christian, “To love or not to love?” is not the question (my apologies to Mr. Shakespeare). Our question is always, “How do I love?”
How we love changes from person to person, even within the life of one relationship. Think of a mother with her tiny son, cradling and cuddling, bathing and feeding. That same son grows to manhood, and his mother still loves him with all her heart—would perhaps die for him—but cradle, cuddle, bathe, feed? Hardly. A hug, maybe. A pat on the shoulder.
From making every decision for the welfare of this child, the good mother must learn to love without overstepping, even if—especially if—the boy/man does something dangerous or sinful or just plain dumb.
On the second Sunday of this month, we hear a Gospel story that details the complex nature of familial love. Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who drank and debauched his way through his inheritance; the resentful Elder Brother, who whines, “Where’s my goat?!”; and the Loving Father, who stands with open arms, ready to offer forgiveness.
I’ve known all of these characters from the inside. I’m embarrassingly familiar with the petulant attitude of the elder brother—that childish envy of the attention others receive and the sense of entitlement that’s so destructive to the soul and to relationships. I’ve come to know the repentant younger brother, too-late aware that all is gift, grateful for goodness I didn’t earn. That’s the grace of the convert.
And I’ve also known the ready-to-forgive attitude of the loving father, longing to welcome back into my life a friend or colleague or family member, no matter how grievous the estrangement.