Leila is six years old, and everything she does is adorable. It’s not adorable because she is more special than anyone else’s six-year-old; it’s because all six-year-olds are inherently adorable. In fact, she is right at that age where adults whose lives have gone completely off the rails are remembered youthfully in slow motion old home videos where they are so happy and cute and perfect that it makes you wonder, where did they get lost? She is at that perfect age where all that exists is promise. In short, she is simply too young to have disappointed me in any way. She is so innocent and happy and good that it makes me almost sad to know that she will age out of it. Last night I found myself praying that she stays this perfect, that she never disappoints me, that she never gets lost and never fails.
It’s not that it won’t happen though. Every mother I know has that vivid memory of when their child first really, really disappointed them. Their eyes darken, they look off into the distance, the corners of their mouths turn down, and they recall. I remember the first time I saw that look in my mother’s own eyes. Ummhmm. Kids can recognize it. Wait a minute! Will Leila remember the first time disappointment colors my eyes? Worse still, will she remember, in vivid, self-righteous detail, all the ways that I will disappoint her? Oh dear heavens! All this time I have been worried about raising a failure and the reality is no matter what, we will disappoint and fail each other.
But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this is all love is anyway; failure and forgiveness. In parenthood, in marriages, in siblingships, it is that is all that exists. We will say things that hurt each other, we will wound each other with our actions, we will disappoint each other, and because we love each other, we will forgive each other. I think that is one of the greatest love lessons in the Bible. When Jesus looked Peter – his most loyal, faithful disciple – in the eye at the Last Supper and told him “you will deny me three times before the cock crows”, he didn’t do it with damnation in his eye. He didn’t say it with fire in his voice; just disappointment. And after all Peter’s adamant protesting otherwise and then his ultimate failures, what does Jesus do? No shaming, damning, no casting out and no cold shoulders. Nope; he forgives him… and empowers him. And that is what love is. It isn’t people always saying the right things to each other, always lifting each other up, always making the other one better and more perfect. It is people seeing each other for who they are as they are, accepting them in spite of themselves, forgiving them and then empowering them to grow past their weaknesses. Yes my baby will probably break my heart before this thing is over, and I will most certain break hers. She will lie to me, I will embarrass her, she will do something sneaky, I will be too restrictive and the world will end for the both of us on more than one occasion. But, I realize the test is not avoiding the challenges, it is being strong enough to forgive each other for whatever is to come. Because what I am growing more certain of is that while failure is inevitable, forgiveness is redemptive. My baby will be her best, not because she never will make a mistake, but because – if I do a good job – she will be empowered to still reach for her best self in spite of her mistakes. She will be empowered to forgive herself. And maybe for a little girl growing up in a very unforgiving world, that is the most important lesson of all.