My younger son Rowan once asked me if he could ever do anything that would make me stop loving him.
“No, absolutely nothing,” I assured him. “Even if you did the worst thing you could think of, even if you were in jail for your whole life, I would still love you. I will love you and your brother every minute of my life, no matter what.”
Rowan paused, considering my answer.
“Even on the lamp day, when you got super mad…did you love me the same amount that day, too?” Rowan pressed. “Or did you maybe love me a little bit less?”
Ah yes, the infamous Lamp Day — the day Rowan hurled a pillow across the living room (in spite of the no-throwing-pillows rule) and broke a lamp, mere hours after my mom had bought me a new lamp to replace the other lamp Rowan had broken eight months before, also by hurling a pillow across the room.
I cringe even now as I recall the scene, me gripping the lamp base white-knuckled, shaking it over my head and raving incoherently. My mother, who was visiting for the week, stood speechless next to me, paralyzed by my bellowing outburst. I ordered the boys to their rooms while I swept up the fragments, ranting about how they’d spend the entire day behind closed doors. My mother retreated to the basement guest room as I crashed around the kitchen, slamming the box of fresh donuts into the trashcan and fuming aloud to myself while the boys howled in their bedrooms.
All in all, the Lamp Day was not my most stellar moment in parenting, nor was it indicative of the kind of overflowing love Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians:
“I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep growing in knowledge and understanding.” (Philippians 1:9)
I heard this verse in church literally three days after the infamous Lamp Day. In fact, that Sunday my pastor talked about how parents must practice different kinds of love: sacrificial love, tough love and gracious love. As I listened to my pastor’s words that morning, I slumped lower and lower in the pew, remembering how I’d failed as a mother just three days before. I remembered, guiltily, how I’d overflowed not with love and grace, but with roiling anger.
The truth is, in our worst parenting moments — or in any of our worst moments — we might be tempted to doubt God’s unwavering love. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the concept of grace — God’s limitless capacity to love us, no matter what our flaws, no matter how bad our failings. Yet at the same time, parenting also ironically offers me a sliver of insight and understanding into that kind of immovable love.
“Even though I was really mad, and really disappointed about the lamp, and even though I yelled a lot, I still loved you just as much,” I assured Rowan, the day he questioned the extent of my love for him. “My love for you wasn’t even a tiny bit less. Love stays the same no matter what.”
It was the truth, and it was an answer I needed to hear myself. My own answer to Rowan was a much-needed reminder of the depth of God’s unwavering love for me.