Last week I pulled up to a stoplight behind a white Subaru and noticed a bumper sticker right away. I was rolling slowly up behind them as the words came into focus: “I love my spoiled, ungrateful children.”
Wow. Not the worst bumper sticker I’d ever seen, but it certainly got me thinking. Who writes these? Who markets them? Why? And most importantly, who buys them and sticks them on their car? Are they proud that their children are this way? Do they think it’s cute? Are they enablers?
I finally made it up directly behind the car. I first looked to see who was in there….how old are these kids, anyway? Are we talking middle schoolers? Grown adult children? And what kind of wimpy parents are these, driving the car?
But rather than getting a clear perspective on who was in the car, I got a better look at the rest of the bumper sticker. In smaller letters at the bottom it read, “Signed, God.”
The thought intrigued me, convicted me, and petrified me at the same time.
As parents, we have all lived in fear of that dreaded offense: “spoiling our children.” Turning them into sour milk, moldy bread, or rancid meat. Taking someone perfectly perfect and through sins of omission or commission, ruining them. Making them useless. No one sets out to do that. And more importantly, if you’re the child, you never know it’s happening until long after it’s happened.
As a parent, I remember that all-consuming love that came home with each new baby. And I wondered how I could reign in that love to keep from spoiling the precious person God had placed in my care for a season.
One thing I learned while I was being trained to teach Parenting Classes for the court system seemed so elementary, and yet so radical to this old mama: “You can give your children too much freedom or too much stuff, but you can’t give them too much love.”
I have come to believe that God operates like that.
(Cue Mercy Me’s “Wishful Thinking:”
Lord, is it possible to get this far
And just now understand who You are?)
God continually gives His ungrateful children lavish, undeserved love. A love so big we cannot grasp its dimensions or strength.
And as humans, we question this unfathomable love. We treat it as an alien. We prod it, provoke it, test it, to see if it is real.
When our son was a toddler, I asked him to pick up his blocks so we could eat dinner. He had been playing at my feet while I cooked. When the “request” was made, he stopped and looked at me, and did nothing. I asked several more times. He clearly understood. Once or twice, he even started to do it, but then changed his mind, tiny hand hesitating in mid-air.
He was trying to see if our love had any substance to it. Without that, he couldn’t fully appreciate it.
Our own defiance toward God may stem from trying to understand God’s abundant love. When we are rebelling, we are saying, just as my son was, “Show me you love me. Show me you’re real. Show me you’re in control of my singular life.”
During the testing, God’s love can seem difficult to comprehend. We don’t always get what we want or think is best. We can’t always see where our God is going with a situation.
In the middle of life’s detours, we start to question if God is good. If He is always good. Even when life isn’t.
But our Father knows us intimately and understands our struggling hearts. And He heaps on the undeserved love. He is patient as we eventually reach out from under the love-smothered pain, and learn to be grateful.
I’ve thought quite a bit about that one little bumper sticker. It seemed to have been there just for me. Many days God must look at me and see someone who doesn’t get it, someone who has been given so much and wants even more. And most importantly, someone who is infinitely loved anyway.
I am thankful to have been on the street behind that Subaru.
I was given the gift of self-reflection. Peering into my own heart, I could see how spoiled I’ve been. And yet, not ruined.
But mostly, I saw God’s extravagant love sprouting through the mess I had made of things.
During my health journey, I’ve been given an extra measure of love. Even as I have wallowed in self-pity, even as I have rebelled against the Giver of Life, I was able to eventually come to the altar of gratitude. Without that generous dose of love, I may not have gotten there.
From my journal recently:
I am finding it hard to pray. I don’t know if God hears me anymore. Or if He even exists some days. I saw the story arc. The one where He finally rode into town and made everything ok again. I rejoiced and celebrated the unexpected improvement. I thought we were finishing up and moving on. But now, I continue to deal with the everyday struggle and there is nothing left to try. And even worse, I feel like I am pulling my husband under with me. We live in the crevice between normal life and desperate illness. I know how to be healthy, and I have learned over the last few years how to be a sick person. But this limbo is a weird place to be. Still, even as I am expressing all of that, I can’t shake the sense of overwhelming, consuming gratitude to be here to complain.
So, perhaps a better bumper stick would be: “Thank You for Your abundant, undeserved love. Signed, Your spoiled but grateful child.”