3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

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To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

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. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

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Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

High Polish Tatra mountains

“Make your decisions as to what to embrace, but let me embrace my belief.”

In 1836 a prophetic man wrote the following words which we still need today: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (emphasis added)

The idea of allowing all people to “worship how . . . they may” is vanishing. The definition of worship, like so many words today, has shifted to mean: whatever you spend your time, money, and thoughts pursuing. The implications reach even beyond worshiping Deity (although an argument can readily be made that just about anything can become one’s “god”).

The quote above is a declaration that each person should choose how they will live and who they will follow. Many cultures believe in a judgment day that will eventually evaluate the correctness of one’s life. But we mere mortals don’t make that final judgment. Nor should anyone force another to live a life that feels dishonest.

I’ve written this book series to speculate what may happen to a society when beliefs and ideals are eliminated to allow for only one point of view, and where people are restricted to only one location. Forcing a belief or behavior works, albeit only temporarily, as fallen political regimes—and rebellious teenagers—have demonstrated throughout millennia. A person’s individual belief is an intimate and even sacred thing. It’s also vulnerable, subject to enlightenment as well as destruction.

Beliefs can strengthen and unite us, but they don’t necessarily have to divide us. You don’t need to agree with all of my beliefs, nor do I have to agree with yours for us to still value each other.

You may not believe in a god, or you may believe in a different manifestation of Deity, while I believe in a Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
But we can still talk together.

You may believe in redefining the definition of marriage, while I feel that only God can do that.
But we can still be Facebook friends.

You may disagree with me on gun rights, or trends in schooling, or the nature of the family, or evolution, or which chocolate chip is better—Nestle’s or Hershey’s.
But we can still eat cookies together.

We don’t have to agree on everything, but we must agree to respect each other.
And we can.

In fact, I grow when you challenge my ideals, and I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate further what I think I already know.

I’ve worked with people who were diametrically opposed to so many of my beliefs that it was difficult to find common ground, but we found it. And worked together effectively.
And even called each other friends at the end.
Because we respected each other.

Then again, that was about 20 years ago.

Our world doesn’t seem to want to embrace mutual respect anymore. We used to call it “tolerance,” but even the definition of that word has been skewed to mean, “If you don’t agree with me, it means you hate me, therefore I get to call you names and bully you.”

This all-encompassing preoccupation with the self, instead of concern for others, creates a me-above-the-world mindset that promotes the individual before anyone else.
And that creates tyranny.

All the “great” dictators of the world started as bullies, or were bullied. But we all learned back in grade school that once you allow the bullies to get power, no one feels safe.

The bullies are winning now, in much larger venues and with much higher stakes. Incivility has become acceptable and even trendy, and it’s forcing people to retreat to different sides and take up arms.
But when did an all-out war ever really resolve anything, except to prove who’s the better bully?

Now, I readily concede that what I attempt to paint as a clear picture of mutual tolerance becomes murky when one person’s belief begins to affect the life of another. What I strive to maintain in my life may infringe on what you believe, and likewise your ideals may harm me.

But it’s also a very large world, with a great diversity of cultures, ideals, and peoples.
The point is, there is room for everyone. There’s no need to force every person into the same spot, the same box, the same belief system.
There’s room to explore, to change, to grow, to move.

Diversity is good. Diversity makes us think and reevaluate. Diversity reinforces our beliefs, or it can even lead us to a better, higher ideal.

Even the topography of the world is vastly diverse. How dull would the earth be if we had no deserts, no forests, no plains, but only ocean? The oceans never invade deserts, and forests stop so that plains can exist.

People are even more varied than topography. I don’t see that as a problem, but as a solution. The ocean doesn’t insist the desert changes for it; it simply resides where oceans reside best. Nor do the beliefs of others need to invade the corner of the world I inhabit, forcing me to change. Allow me to live how and where I choose, and I promise I won’t try to transform your section either. We can even visit and learn about each other, and there may even be some shifting of minds and hearts.

But there’s no reason to angrily insist that all the ocean water needs to go, or that all of the sand needs to vanish. We need both deserts and oceans—there’s room for all of the earth’s diversity, and room for all of our diversity, too.

We can still allow everyone to coexist, without choosing to feel threatened that others are different. I appreciate the sentiment of the coexist bumper sticker, symbols of differing ideals combining together to create a diverse whole.

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Having met earnest believers of other religions, I’ve felt myself enlightened by their depth of soul and sincerity of heart. Goodness, like cookies, comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and flavors. I’ve learned to not label individuals with the slurs of generalizations. That’s what bullies do—shove individuals into groups, then attack the whole to promote only themselves. Some days it already feels that the world is out to get us, because the bullies are winning.

Sometimes it’d be nice to retreat to the very edge of the world, where few people rarely venture. But now’s not the time to run away, but to take a stand and ask, “Why does civility, equality, and freedom mean you have to destroy me?”

I started writing this book series four years ago, and have been grimly surprised to see elements I worried and wrote about initially are manifesting in society today. Books seven and eight will describe a world which frankly terrifies me, and it seems we’re running headlong towards that end in real life.

I also decided some time ago that I can just drift with the current like an apathetic fish and float to whatever dismal end there is at the end of the river, or I can swim against the current and insist on staying right where I choose to be.

I’ve chosen to fight the current, and to live at the Forest at the Edge where I can still speak my mind and follow my heart.

You’re more than welcome to join me.

IMG_5601edit   Trish Mercer