Metaphor – figure of speech in which a term is applied to something it does not literally denote in order to imply a resemblance (Collins Essential Canadian English Dictionary & Thesaurus). While use of metaphor is not foolproof and will eventually fall short, it does provide a way to explore a topic and to enhance a perspective. We are not all parents, but we have all been parented, so holding the metaphor of parent and parenting to glimpse God is familiar, though again, not foolproof.
As a parent, I have mused much on God as Parent. When our kids were little, we did all we could to provide a safe, nurturing, and secure environment for them in which they could grow and simply be. Within that context, there was also opportunity for learning natural consequences and, on occasion, the need to manufacture a consequence to fit the bill. There was so-called opportunity to learn that biting is not an acceptable method of conflict resolution, that playing Andy, Andy, Over with a kitten is not in the kitten’s best interest, and that to have a friend, you need to be a friend. Those early years are much like a greenhouse where seedlings are established in a controlled environment of the right amount of moisture, protection from wind, ideal lighting, and just the right plant food to enable them to put down good roots. As a parent of a seedling, you want to provide an environment that fosters growth, and when ill winds blow and threaten to stunt or warp the seedling’s growth, you try to do everything to fix it.
And sometimes there are no fixes. Illness finds its way in and robs your baby of a pain-free and care-free childhood. Death robs life and you’re only left with a brokenness. Anxiety out of nowhere attaches to a young and pliable heart and cripples a free spirit. Acute and persistent homesickness casts a long shadow. Night terrors leave you with a terror. As a parent, you would do anything to lift it off your child, but your power only reaches so far. Is this where the metaphor of a Parent God runs out or is this where my understanding of power is distorted?
Seedlings in a greenhouse are eventually hardened off to prepare them for life in the real world as they say. Our kids are all adults and are in the real world and my role as parent has morphed. There is a line from an old song by Kenny Rogers entitled The Gambler that captures an essence of being a parent to adult children – it goes like this – “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”. As a mother of adult children, my heart has needed to enlarge and to hold much. You simply can’t fix things for them, and even if you could, should you?
Having all our children exit childhood to ease, stretch, and fit into the skins of their autonomy has fleshed out for me further this metaphor of God as Parent. As each of them has encountered the uneven terrain and trials of the journey that life inevitably brings, I feel a deep grief and pain at my powerlessness as a mother to absorb it and take it away. Kissing the booboo doesn’t make it better anymore. I can be available and listen, be present to their disappointments, and be a number one fan, but I have to let them journey their journey. Running interference, even if I could, may not be in their best interest.
Thinking of God as a Parent is only a sliver of a glimpse into the Mystery, but I go there when I try to make sense of the nonsensical. Could it be that I as an adult child am invited to grow deeper roots? Or am I looking to somehow let God off the hook as it were? When I think of power I think of exerting all my will and strength to make it happen. God seems to see power as this upside down, going low, serving, and completely emptying of strength, will, and self. This often, though not always, resurrects into an unexpected goodness.
God showing up in the womb of a woman is a power that is so adverse to the cultural norms and is the reverse of what I think of when I think of power. Not only being present to the human experience but actually being human gives God a credibility that woos rather than wrangles. Could it be harder for God not to intervene than to intervene? When the woman who has lost her child is greeted by God beyond this life, might God say something like “I’m so sorry you had to go through that”?
What does it look like for me to be wholly present to my kids in their journeys? How do I go into their womb and humbly follow God’s archetype of powerless power?