I recently participated in CMM’s Manna & Mercy course. It was an eyeopener. We learned new techniques to interpret the Bible, which included spending time understanding the context and asking more questions when we encounter things that we don’t understand. We learned to wear our Jesus lenses when reading the Bible. It gave love a whole new meaning. The perfection of God’s love is the choice not to love was a key sentence that stuck with me. In other words, true love can only happen when we have the choice not to love. Seeing God’s love in this way is very powerful and made me reflect on the parent-child relationship, which often lacks the choice not to love. Let me explain.
It is natural for us to think that children must love their parents. Parents are the ones that bring children into the world. They raise them, feed them, give significant financial resources, sacrifice time and other things. Furthermore, we grew up with the belief that the Bible told us in the ten commandments to ‘Honour your father and your mother’ which was used in particular by our parents and society when we misbehaved or seemed disrespectful.
Applying the newly learned Bible reading skills, we learned, that the commandments were written in the context of a vulnerable and traumatised society that was trying to protect in particular the vulnerable. It is therefore not helpful to think that honouring your parents refers to a little child (who is already more vulnerable than any adult) asking it to honour their parent. However, if this commandment relates instead to the adult-child and old-parent, it matches the context. It relates to the construct when parents get old and vulnerable and need the protection and support from their children. Seeing it in this light enables us to free the parent-child relationship from guilt and compulsive thankfulness.
On 2 November, we celebrated International Children’s Day, and I would like to encourage us to reflect on the burden parents and society put on children. Instead of liberating their love and enabling and empowering children to live in love, by love and for love – we put a compulsion into the parent/caregiver-child relationship. In most instances, children do love their parents. Even neglected or abused children love their parents. The obligation to love or not having the choice not to love often plays a part in why abused children find it difficult to be angry with their abuser parent. We should not be driven by our fear of losing the love of our children or becoming less important in their lives or fearing that after ‘all we did for them’ we get nothing back. We should rather have sleepless nights asking ourselves how do we teach them love that comes without expectation? How do we teach them the unconditional Jesus way of love? Surely not by filling our relationships with expectations and obligations. I know many people who in their adult life have challenging relationships with their parents. They might ‘get along’, but the relationships are marked by a lot of anger, hurt and misunderstandings. Let’s give the children generation of today a chance to learn free love by allowing them not to love us. Our children (biological or related) do not owe us anything. But we owe them the choice to love and not to love – enabling true and free love.