No, this isn’t a Valentine’s Day post. Just something I was thinking about on the way home.
I haven’t always known what was right or wrong in my growing up. For a long time I knew something was wrong and tried to keep the “outside world” from finding out what it was. Frankly, though, I didn’t really know what it was myself. I knew some things. But not everything. Then when I started wanting to talk to people about things, I didn’t know what was actually the “wrong” part of things.
So I remember times in high school and college when I would talk to people about my life at home, about the things I recognized as somehow being related to something that was wrong, but I just didn’t know precisely what was wrong. I think I often came across as a spoiled brat or as arrogant and entitled. I remember talking to a friend/mentor in college shortly before the end of the semester and saying, “My parents know they have to pick me up at the airport and they didn’t even save aside any money to go out to eat.”
Okay, that sounds spoiled and bratty and entitled. I realize this. Breakdown in communication. I consciously knew other people had a different life but still assumed the problem with this would be evident, as though somehow everything would be understood. But it wasn’t. If I’d been smart enough to break it down further, I would have explained the real issue in these smaller portions:
First, in this case, “go out to eat” didn’t mean, “Go out to a fancy restaurant,” or even, “go out to Applebee’s.” (That’s about as fancy as I get.) More like, “swing by a fast food restaurant.”
Second, the reason doing so was important is because every bit of money I earned at my job went to my tuition (straight there–I never even saw it) and I had absolutely no money to buy food in the airport in the 8 hours or so that I would be traveling. Further, I was getting in about supper time, and the airport was an hour and a half from our house.
Third, there was no guarantee of food at home. As it turned out, my parents brought some “food,” but it was Christmas treats. For someone who’s only eaten airplane pretzels and crackers all day, sugar wasn’t exactly what my stomach needed. And I remember getting back to the house and eating . . . oh, a can of green beans or something simple like that. Because, as I suspected, I couldn’t find a whole meal.
That’s just one example. I can think back over dozens of conversations I’ve had that I absolutely didn’t know what was wrong, or how to express it correctly.
But when it comes down to it, the most wrong thing was never the lack of food. There are tons of families with very little who still have wonderful relationships. Lack of money, and lack of certain necessities as a result, can often be hindrances to relationships. But then, so can too much money and distraction by stuff.
No, what was missing was love. I don’t mean a strong emotional attachment. I know our parents had (and have) a strong emotional attachment to us. But love is more than that. Biblically speaking, love is patient, kind, not arrogant or rude; it does not insist on its own way; not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in truth; bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things; and never fails. (I Cor. 13:4-8, summarized)
All I remember hearing from my parents was blame, shouting, reasons that everything was soemone else’s fault. I remember feeling scared, wrong. I remember an overwhelming sense that anyone who managed to figure out a secret or a mystery or whatever else was triumphant, and everyone else was stupid. I remember feeling like I was destined to fail, no matter what. Like it was impossible for me to every do anything right. The drawing I was proud of was met with, “You’re not very good at hands, are you?” I remember being downright shocked when my father expressed pride in me my senior year of college. I didn’t know he was actually proud of me.
So yes, the emotions of love, the attachments, were there. But the agape love, the unconditional love, that the Bible speaks of–the very Bible my parents claim to believe, and the agape (that’s pronounced ah-gah-pay, for those of you not familiar with Greek) love that comes from Christ alone as He changes us, was sadly lacking.
I often think maybe it’s my imagination, maybe because some things weren’t right, I’m exaggerating those things in my memory. Then a sister says, “I just realized I’m having popcorn for supper for the first time since I moved out of Mum and Dad’s house.” And I realize that the food really was lacking. And we kids really did get the blame, or (as mentioned in the link I shared near the beginning of this post) were called “selfish” because we were hungry and wanted a meal, as though it was our responsibility to think of our father first and not the other way around.
Here’s the thing: agape love is a change made through Jesus, but learning to think of others first can be taught. It’s not taught by saying, “Hey! Think of me first!” It’s taught by saying, “Hey, I love you and I’m thinking of you first.” Or, more accurately, by DOING that. Not in an indulgent way–that would lead to spoiled brats. But in a way that clearly shows that the needs of others come first. That is how you love. And that is what I don’t remember experiencing in my home as I grew up.