"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." (John 15:9)
I am the father of eight children, ranging in age between 7 and 27. Over the past three-plus years, I have told many stories, centering on the life of our family, most particularly my marriage to my wife Molly, and some of the various and sundry churnings we've endured with our kids. A few of our struggles with our kids have gone beyond the run-of-the-mill, garden-variety kind of stuff, and there were a few years in the early 2000s when the life of our family was thrown into a pretty high degree of turmoil.
You can believe me if I tell you that, as a father, my first instinct in such times of turmoil is not always to wonder how I can help my wayward child find his/her way back to where they belong. Often as not, my first instinct is to make sure that my reamer has been properly sharpened. . .
A couple of our kids in particular, brought us just crushing grief, a few years back, and have struggled to varying degrees ever since, to get their lives together. Both of them are doing much better than what I blogged about, a few years back, but it has still been agonizing, at times, to watch one or the other of them (or both at once), continue to make the same bad choices that have brought them trouble, over and over again. We want nothing more than for their lives to go well, and yet, over and over again, our hearts get broken, as they go back around for another trip on the merry-go-round of their lives.
And sometimes, when the latest cycle has just begun, I think that it's just all too much for me, that I can't deal with my heart being broken yet again. I'm tempted to wave good-bye to my wayward children, to wish them well, and wash my hands, and leave them to their fate, and get on with my own life.
Such was my temptation, not too long ago, when the behavior of one of the older kids, once again, threw the family into a weekend of drama and turmoil. The younger kids were mad at the older kids, the older kids were mad at the younger kids, and each other, and everybody seemed to agree that, one way or another, it was all Molly's fault, and mine. (Note to my readers: many years ago, I instituted the policy that any of my kids who screws up their life, and blames it on Molly and/or me, will be cut out of their inheritance; at this point, my central task in that regard is to depart this life with enough of an inheritance left behind for it to be at least potentially meaningful for them to be cut out of it.) (*sigh*)
(I'm kidding!) (Mostly.)
Then I went to Mass on Sunday morning, and in the course of the Scripture readings (I don't even remember what they were), I inwardly heard my Heavenly Father ask how many times I supposed I had broken His heart. And suddenly, in an instant, I understood. At a deep level, broken hearts are a fundamental part of what it means to be a father. The question is not whether my heart will be broken, but rather, how will I respond when it inevitably is?
And so, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, I wait. Hoping and praying, and trying to be ready for the day when my wayward child returns home once again. And hoping and praying that this time, it will be for good and for all. And turning my own broken heart to the Father of Hearts, whose own heart has been more cruelly broken than mine will ever be. And that, often as not, by me.
Mother Teresa often said that our major task in this life is learning what it really means to love. I just never imagined that it could be so heart-breaking. Or that I had so very much to learn. . .