Jeremiah 31:18-20 (NIV)Verses 18 and 20 are included for context; the meat of this passage is verse 19. Specifically: “After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.” I’ve gone down that very path more times than I care to count, and I’m starting to get the impression I can no longer blame it on my youth.
“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return,
because you are the Lord my God.
After I strayed,
after I came to understand,
I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is not Ephraim my dear son,
the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord.
Of course, I felt plenty old in my early 20s, and now I look back on those days as my youth. So provided I live a long, healthy life, I’m sure one day I’ll look back on my early 30s as my youth as well. If only I could ensure getting older also would mean getting past the point where I do or say things that lead to shame and humiliation.
Still, it’s a familiar road map: Stray, repent, understand, acknowledge and accept responsibility. Again, the idea is to stop straying in the first place. But it happens, and at least there’s an action plan in place. Most firefighters would gladly live in a world where buildings never burn. But we can’t make that a reality, so we’d darn well better have those firefighters at the ready. “Restore me and I will return.”
And if God considers all of us dear children in whom there is delight, for whom God’s heart yearns, well, that’s a pretty good place to be. As a father, I want my children to see me in a similar light. Surely they will disobey, and surely they will be punished. They will need to apologize and be accountable. But I will not stop being thrilled they are my children, I will continue to have compassion for them. I pray my children never have serious missteps or put themselves in significant danger. But if they do, I hope to be able to deal with those challenges lovingly.
An unruly calf is one thing. A fully-grown yet out-of-control steer is a completely different matter. But I must remember that although we’re chin-deep now in the early stages of parenting, we’ll one day be long past diaper changes, preschool birthday parties and third-grade book reports. But we’ll still be parents. The specific challenges may change, but the love and respect should be constant.
If God’s love for me can be endless and unchanged, so too can my love for my kids. God has put me in the position to love them, and I trust God will grant me the ability to see it through as far as possible. And I hope that’s a very, very long time.
A prayer for April 26:
Lord, your path is clear, and still I stray. You forgive me, accept me as I am, sned me off to live free from my sin… and then I stray again. Over and over we go through the same loop, yet your patience never wanes. I would be lost without your permanence, and I can never thank you enough for your grace and love. Please help me as I try to make sure our home is a safe place for our children, where they know they will always be loved and forgiven. Help me, when I consider whatever it is they do, to always remember what you have done for us. Amen.