The other day, as I was rocking my daughter to sleep and reflecting on how much I love her, I stumbled upon a striking realization. There was a phase in my parenting life, perhaps a year ago, when I really sought to hurry through the whole toddler bedtime routine. Every evening was a race with the clock to get her down nice and early and enjoy the freedom of spending time with my wife without constant interruption. But lately, things have changed. I have really started to enjoy those twilight bedtime minutes.
It’s not that I am less excited to hang out and catch up with my wife. It’s just that, as I notice how quickly she is already growing, I am seeing the precious nature of every moment I get with her. Getting the PJ’s on. Asking her about her day. Brushing our teeth and saying our prayers. Endless requests for a last drink of water. All that to finish off with her head resting on my shoulder as we calm the day’s frenzies with a few minutes in the rocking chair. Its my time with her. It’s her time with me.
As these thoughts rolled upon my mind, wave after wave, they came with an increasingly deeper realization of my love for her. Maybe thats the unique thing about a parent’s love for a child. The daily grind of raising and caring for them is so fast and hard, you often don’t even realize the depth to which that love as actually penetrated your whole being. That’s what I started to see at that moment. My love for her is total. Absolute. All consuming. There isn’t a fiber of my being that is not committed to her greatest good.
This is quite different from the thrilling love I had for my wife when we were dating, where you are ready for every radical action to please your beloved. In many ways that love was more about me than it was about my (soon to be) wife. It was consumed with how she made me feel and how wonderful it was for me to be with her. A parent’s love for a child is different. It is set wholly and completely on the other. She is our child. We brought her into this world. She belongs to us. She depends on us. We alone can give her the parental care she needs. We must love her to the complete and total best of our capacity.
And yet here’s where I started to see something else. As a look at this boundless ocean of love for my child, I start to realize that it is even bigger than I am. The totality of my love for her is not a reflection of the totality of all that I can give her, but on the totality of good that she can receive. It’s not just that I want to give her my best. I want her to have the best, and that leads me to the helpless realization that the best is something that is far outside my own capacity to provide. I am merely a man. And a faulty one at that. So much in this life is outside my control. What can I give her? How can I, in all my imperfection, hope to give her even a taste of the greatest beauties and joys that life has to offer?
Someone may say, “Oh common man, don’t be so hard on yourself. Your a great guy. Do your best! That is all you can do. She is already so lucky to have a dad like you!” And yet this is precisely my point. This isn’t about me. Its about her greatest good. Lowering the bar down to simply settling for what I can give is means loving her less, not more. Its not about how good I can be, but about how good good can be. And wanting that for her.
This is a love that stretches to the heavens, far beyond my reach. No parent can ever match in their actions the greatness of the love that they really have for their kids in their hearts. In some sense I wish I could break out of my little shell and just for a second possess all of the power that God has just so that I can bestow on her the greatest good; so that I can really and truly love her in the fullest sense, not just with my best, but with the best. And yet this is where I run into the boundaries of my being. I am not God. I am just a little person in a giant universe, who loves his little girl more than he can comprehend.
Running into this fence I inevitably must ask the question, “Why then does such a love exist? Where does it come from and to what does it point?” The evolutionary narrative of my culture tells me that this is simply a byproduct of my species’ drive to survive. Nothing more, nothing less. And I don’t think that anyone actually believes that and still takes their loved ones seriously.
But what if this love is actually real? What if it, like a compass within my soul, points to a greater, truer north to which my heart was made to be tuned? What if it’s an echo within my soul, placed there by the ultimate Father who actually loves me more than I can even comprehend? This is where I find, within the christian narrative, yet another glimmering diamond of truth that fills the soul exactly where it is empty. Ultimately, I cannot deliver to my daughter the ultimate good of the universe. And yet I know one who does, and does so daily.
I want to become like God to giver her myself in the fullest sense. And yet I know that God became a man to eternally give himself to us. All the fullness of his goodness, wisdom and love, took the leap for us. Because of his great love, the fountain and foundation of all love, he took on ultimate pain and suffering in our place so that we don’t have to. Out of the abundance of his mercy, he came to suffer and die in the place of my fallenness and rebellion. He came to restore the soul to its one and only Father. He did that for me. And he did that for her.
She is softly snoring on my shoulder by now. Sailing away peacefully in her sleep. Far outside the bounds of my fatherhood. I lay her down in her little bed. I am overcome. Both with my love for her and his love for me. I cannot reach the greatest good. Nor can I give it. And yet because of Jesus, the greatest good has itself been given to us. He has done that which we cannot. I know that greatest good though my dad is a mere man. And she will know it though I am a mere man.