THE LOVE OF A PARENT
By Shery Abdelmalak
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
We know this verse like the back of our hands. Yet how often do we practice this? When you go to confession, is there ever a point where you don’t stop to think about how you treated your parents? There is something missing here. Clearly, we cannot fully grasp the importance of honouring our parents.
Our parents, like God, love with an unconditional love. If God has ever expressed how much He loves us, it is by comparison to the love of a parent. Isaiah 49:15-16 reads,
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands
After all the sins that the nation of Israel committed against the Lord, He continues to pour His Love upon them. Did Israel deserve anything from the Lord at this point? Every man acted in accordance with what was right in his own eyes. What God? They showed complete ignorance for the God that saved them, the God that redeemed them, the God that promised them a land flowing of milk and honey. Yet He still reaches out to them in love. Maybe this time they will understand. Maybe if He just showed them how great His love is once more.
John Cassian says, “This design and love of His, which the Lord designs with unwearying kindness to benefit us with and which He wishes to express as an act of human affection, although He discovers no such loving disposition in His creation to which He could worthily compare it, He has compared with the most tender heart of a loving mother. He uses this example because He can find nothing dearer in the nature of human beings.“
A mother could never forget her own child. It is medically impossible. Oxytocin is released throughout pregnancy and is particularly heightened during delivery. While it primarily serves to assist with contractions, oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone.” This is because it shifts behaviour toward warmth, compassion and protection for the new born baby. A love that is not conditioned to the actions of the baby. At that point, nothing a child does can make their parents love them any less. Through the family unit, God gives us insight into the love that is imparted from the Creator to the creation.
Christ explains the entire oxytocin process best when He says, “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21
How could a screaming baby lead to joy? It was all in His original design. While the love of a parent is but a small fraction of the love God has for us, it brings us that little bit closer to Him.
When we are loved unconditionally, it becomes difficult to reciprocate. There may be immediate repercussions for a child’s action, but the love of a parent remains. If we look at the story of St Augustine’s return to God, we see the power of a parent’s love. St Monica had successfully converted her husband and mother-in-law to the faith but her son, Augustine was more difficult. After sending him away, she had a vision that forced her to continue praying for his salvation despite his resistance. For years, she prayed and on one encounter with a bishop, he told her, “the child of those tears shall never perish.” Seventeen years of prayer later, St Augustine became one of the greatest theologians of our faith.
For the rest of us, we may not be joined to the world living to our heart’s content, we may think that we are doing alright, but for all the times we ignore or react badly to our parents, do we truly know love? In the same way we did not choose our parents, we did not choose God either. Christ told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” – John 15:16. These levels of love are difficult to comprehend and so, God’s starts us off simply with the example of our parents so that we get a glimpse into true love that is in Christ.
All in all, we may never be able to comprehend the love of a parent until we become parents ourselves. Alas, the opportunity to love our parents is here and now, we cannot let it go to waste out of ignorance. Despite whatever annoyance, anger or frustration that you may have for your parents, no one will love you quite the same as your parents. God promises us long life if we honour our parents. We could not be joined with Him unless we loved our parents. How could we honour God whom we have not seen if we do not honour our parents whom we have seen? It is not a matter of punishment, it is a matter of understanding.
Learn to honour your parents first, then you will learn to give God the glory due to His Name. There is no parent who does not wait with the same eagerness as the father of the prodigal son. After he had spent his entire inheritance, treating his father like he was already dead – the absolute height of disrespect – his father waited and watched for his son’s return, for his son to be brought back to life. This is the love that we honour. It is no difficult task when we can understand how much they have already given up for us out of unconditional love.