My parents are making their way to the airport. The “Cajun Mafia” invaded Denver for a few days to “grandparent” and celebrate 35 years of marriage. Thirty-five years is proof of God’s existence in today’s culture. During dinner, I asked my parents to share some with us some wisdom after so many years. After explaining that divorce was never an option and that their relationship seems to continue to strengthen, my dad turned the question on us.
“What had we learned being their children?”
I have been thinking about this question for a while now because my parents and I mixed like oil and water until I was twenty-five. I had always wanted a friendship with them and yet it seemed impossible because we rarely saw eye to eye. Now, I consider my parents to be my friends and have been asking myself, “What took so long?”
Our capacities to love were too different. Theirs was big. Mine was small.
See, it is a sacrifice, suffering, for the sake of the good of someone else that increases the ability to love. The more we truly love, the more wisdom we can truly gain as we continually lay down our own interests for the sake of someone else.
As a young woman, I rarely had to sacrifice for anything. Everything I did was in the end about me. My parents made money, sacrificed their time, and repeatedly laid down their pride for my sake. If I studied, it was for my grades. If I suffered practice, it was so that I could master the task before me. As young men and women in today’s society, we spend most of our time on our futures, our personal development, and our social lives.
While these are not bad things, they, by their nature, can never increase our capacity to love because they are self-focused.
My parents on the other hand (and I know that this is not all parents) were naturally at a point in their lives where they had lived for themselves, and decided that there was something better for which they could give their lives. First, they chose to give their lives to each other. They willingly laid down their singleness for their togetherness. Their decisions were no longer about their individual well-being. In this life decision, their love was expanded. Their marriage conditioned them to be able to make greater acts of love than they could when they were single.
And then, they had children.
Whole. New. Level.
What I now know about having children is that parents, maybe for the first time in their lives (maybe not) are forced to expand their love into the realm of the unconditional. My parents sacrificed for me for FOUR YEARS before I even had my first memory. I could not pay them back; I could not return the favor. I stole their sleep, I cried for no reason, I took away their freedom to go and do whatever they wanted and I did very little for them in return. This total, complete sacrifice expanded their love beyond my comprehension. I had not yet suffered in this manner. My worldview could not match theirs.
Then I got married. I laid down the life that was all about me for a life with my husband. When people say marriage is hard, they mean that the sacrifice for the other hurts. It hurts because I have had so much “me” for so long and the chipping away of that is painful. It leads, however, to joy.
My husband and I now have an 8-month-old. She steals my sleep. It is for her that we have laid down our freedom. She and her future siblings will take all of our money. We will put up with their crying before they ever have a memory and they will most likely pay us back with eye rolls in the future. My capacity to love is now big enough to close the chasm that existed so long between my parents and me.
I have learned over the past two years that the purpose of human connection in its purity is to grow in our capacity to love in a way that reflects the love of God. The key to growing that love is suffering, but we live in a world that is allergic to anything less than comfort, rendering us a society of people was little capacity to truly love. If we can’t pay the price for love, we must settle for politeness and land in isolation.My generation is not marrying or reproducing because they are afraid to give away their freedom. Little do they know that a perpetual adolescence stifles one’s ability to love and is starting to literally kill society on many levels.
If we look at many of the major problems plaguing our society today, most stem from the desire to preserve the self. Internet pornography, the lack of commitment to marriage, the refusal to have children, technology addiction are decimating true culture and killing the connections that make us human. We have to rediscover the Truth that “Fun” is not Purpose and that suffering is not bad. Yes, it is hard, but it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. When I was forced suffer, I found a purpose that cannot be gained through selfishness.
Let us not be afraid to rid ourselves of ourselves and reclaim the purpose for which we were made.
Mallory Smyth is never far from a bag (full of stuff), a book, a bible (also a book), a big smile, a banging cup of coffee and a beautiful friendship.