“We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.”
-1 John 4:19
The other night Morgan and I told the story of our boys to some friends who didn’t know us fourteen years ago. We told them about the shock and awe involved in having three babies in twenty-seven months and then another baby two years after that. We laughed about sleepless nights (curse you, cluster feeding), the potty training antics (read: poop eh-rywhere), and the sheer workload involved in caring for four children under four years old. Of course, it wasn’t funny at all back then, when we were mostly dead every day. But now that we’re sleeping a solid eight hours every night? Hilarious.
It really doesn’t feel like very long ago that our house was full of babies and toddlers. The chaos and filth created by my boys always reminded me of the frat houses from my college days. The beer cans and pizza boxes of those collegiate homes bore an uncanny resemblance to the juice boxes and left-over mac and cheese plates my boys used to playfully adorn our living room.
These days our boys are all solidly in the preteen and teenage years, and if I thought they were similar to college kids at ages 2,3, and 4, the resemblance has only fortified itself in these unruly, emotional, testosterone-filled days we live now.
Teenagers are such a bizarre mixture of child and adult. In one day alone I often see all of these characteristics in my teens: unpredictable, grouchy, self-centered, passionate, argumentative, hilarious, witty, defensive, arrogant, vulnerable, incredibly kind, irresponsible, and brutally honest.
Their near-spastic personalities make sense when I consider all the brain research I’ve read over the years, which says their brains are being flooded with hormones and they are literally being rewired. But even things that make sense can be challenging to navigate. From what I’ve witnesses in my kids, learning to function with a whole new brain is extremely challenging. But learning to love your teenage children is no walk in the park, either.
So the other night, as I stood in the kitchen, willing myself not to be offended by the rude behavior of one of my sons, I thought about brain research, but I also thought about the sweet and stable child he was a few years ago. And I told him how I felt, calmly, pretending to be a person with a rational grasp on my emotions:
“I know that your brain is exploding with hormones and you’re becoming this whole other person in there. But I need to remind you that your dad and I aren’t changing at all. We’re still the same people who have always loved you. And we miss you.”
I seemed all calm, but I inside I was like this:
My son looked back at me like this:
I’m so grateful it’s so easy for us to connect like this.
But really, my son is slowly learning how to remember who he is and who loves him no matter what. In the meantime, I’m slowly learning to give him space to become an (almost) adult. This is how we all grow, and God reminded me in the middle of worship last Sunday that what I am trying to do for my son has already been done for me:
“I know you feel like you have to become a whole new person to handle all the changes in life. But I’m still the same triune God I always have been. I never change, and I’m always here, with an abiding, enduring love for you.”
From the world’s perspective, each one of us is always, always changing. We are growing up and growing beyond who we once were. Our minds and bodies are changing, passing through the years, and we are weathering the storms as best we can.
But from God’s perspective, the essential part of who we are never changes. We are his beloved; the children of the Father; the Bride of the Son; those who live in and through the Spirit. God wants nothing more than to love us, as we were, as we are, as we will be.
Whatever love we are able to offer our toddlers, teenagers, frat boys, spouses, friends, coworkers, or anyone else, flows from the unchanging love that inspired God to create a whole world full of messy people who tend to forget the most important thing:
You are loved. I am loved. We are loved.
Whatever changes and challenges we face today, may we remember that love today, and let it wash over our minds so we can become the people of light and love God already created us to be.