Many years ago, when my first daughter was a baby, I heard a sermon which took parents to task regarding their Christian responsibilities to their children. There were various points, and a story. The story involved the preacher’s own infant son, who many years before had been gravely ill. The preacher described how he had let go of his son, remembering that he belonged first to God, and was only “on loan” to his earthly parents, to take care of for a while.
No one can enter another parent’s pain in the face of their fear for their child. This priest responded as he needed to, no doubt; for myself, it was all I could do not to stand up and shout, “If God wants this one back, He’ll have to go through me first!”
And yet, I had struggled myself with the loss of my first baby, and I believed that God had taken her on, taken her in, and completed her in ways that couldn’t happen in my womb. And I was grateful for God’s loving care of her, when I could not keep up with her little life. And there were times, much later, as the parent of an adolescent child when my prayers were yelled at God, “She’s your daughter too, you know!”
So the giving up, giving in to God, the sharing of the love that we as earthly parents know as a shadow of the love that God has for our children – thank God – that made sense.
I suppose it was the loaner language which got me, and probably not in the way that the preacher intended.
I do not, I think, “borrow” my children from God. I live with them alongside God. I do not “own” or “rent” or “offer up” our children, because they are ours only in so far as they are ours to love.
I am not offered my children in place of God, to take care of them on God’s behalf for a time. We are invited into God’s relationship with them, invited by God to cherish and take pride in them, to care for them and love them, to wonder at them. God, the proud parent, tells us, “See this? This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Isn’t she beautiful?”
I am not a deputy to God as mother to my children, but a stargazer, looking in wonder at the ongoing work of creation standing next to me, awed by the heavenly creature that God has sent to live with me, with whom I fell in love as soon as I saw him; and not unoccasionally perplexed.
We are called by God, in my imagination, not to hold our children more lightly, but to love them more fiercely.
Yesterday, while my youngest one was sleepy and sedated and undergoing minor surgery, and I sat in the waiting room with my rosary beads, I knew that God was with her in her dreams and in her blood and in her sinews, because she is beloved of God, and all I can do is love her, too; still, it was all I could do to let her go. And today, when I dropped her back at school, because she is brave and strong, I was proud of her, and relieved, and thankful, and still a little shaky, because hearts that fall in love are fragile and prone to injury.
Then I got home, to find the news that another faithful, loving mother had lost her son, that he had lost his long and difficult fight to break through and live freely, breathe freely. I do not pretend to imagine her pain, or to understand her loss, or to know how much she loved him; and I do not know how she feels about God right now, or how she imagines that this all works in terms of the heavenly co-parenting deal.
All I can do is pray for her, because I know that she is beloved of God and God listens to every word that’s prayed about her; and pray for him, because he is beloved of God, and God knows how hard this has been for him, too; and pray that those of us who stand in the world loving alongside God will continue to learn how to love God’s children faithfully, and well, and painfully, and happily, and to lean on God’s mercy despite bewilderment and grief, borrowing heavily from God’s own surfeit of love.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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