Today we welcome Pastor Eric Versluis from The Meeting House Ottawa. Eric recently participated at a Christian Horizons Family Camp winter weekend retreat for families experiencing disability.
Becoming a parent is one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I love all three of my children deeply.
I feel the need to be clear about this upfront because what I say next may make you question my parenting credentials:
Becoming a parent has also been a tremendous loss for me.
This is just a fact.
Once you have a child, there is a lengthy list of things that you are forced to “give up” over time.
The ability to do what you want, when you want.
A home that stays clean.
The opportunity to go to the bathroom without someone yelling your name.
The losses run even deeper than that.
The nights of sleep lost worrying about our kids.
The way that whatever identity we had before kids is subsumed by the new title of “Mom” or “Dad”.
The way that our kids can deeply wound us with their words and actions.
But this is what it means to love.
To give up your life for others.
I have been thinking about this a lot since I took part in Christian Horizons Family Camp earlier this year.
While becoming a parent has meant many losses for me, I recognize that these losses are even greater for parents of children with disabilities.
While my kids have all reached the stage where they bathe themselves, make their own lunches and can even be left home alone, this stage will never be the reality for some families.
While my wife and I can anticipate the day when all of our kids are independent and live on their own, this is not an option for other parents. Instead, they live with the constant anxiety of what will happen to their child when they are no longer able to care for them.
While the pandemic was hard on my family, it was devastating to families who rely on programs and supports to give parents even brief moments of respite.
As I talked to these parents at camp, the toll of the accumulated losses they have experienced was palpable.
Love is hard.
At camp, there was a moment where a father had to put himself in harm’s way to protect his adult son from hurting himself or others around him.
Skilled support workers jumped in to help and together they all diffused the situation without major hurt to the child or camp attendees.
But as the Dad walked away with his now calm son, I could see the scratches on his body, the trickle of blood and the marks where bruises would surely emerge later.
Wounds that his son, whom he loved with all his heart and who loved him back, had given to him.
This is not the love of romance stories or Hollywood endings.
This is the kind of love that brings you to the end of yourself and then beyond.
The kind of love that takes all you’ve got during the day and keeps you up at night.
Real. Costly. Love.
They say that it is an act of love to be willing to die for another person.
But it is, perhaps, an even greater act of love to be willing to live for another person.
To keep showing up.
To keep opening your heart.
To keep living your entire life around caring for another.
And I know all this talk of loss and the real cost of love can feel like a downer, but I also find it strangely hopeful.
If human parents, with all our flaws and shortcomings, can find it in our hearts to love our children like this, what does this tell me about how God must love me?
If imperfect love can be this beautiful, what must God’s perfect love be like?
And what would be possible if I was willing to give up a little bit more of myself, and offer it in love to the people around me?
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters”1 John 3:16