With Mother’s Day just past and Father’s Day approaching, I have been thinking about our Heavenly Father as a parent. I’ve always felt that the best answers we could get about how to deal with our children come from observing how He deals with His.
But what about a parent’s feelings? Since God is God and on an infinitely different level from where we are, can we learn how to cope with our feelings about parenthood from His example too? “Surely He doesn’t feel anything like I feel!” I say to myself.
One day I was feeling overwhelmed with even the remote possibility of an eternity of offspring who had agency and could make bad choices. It seemed I’d been bombarded with news of problems of one sort or another that my grown children were having, and I wasn’t coping well.
Here’s a sample of the thoughts that were running through my mind: “Look how much grief agency has caused me – as a result of my own choices and the choices of my relatively tiny number of really good kids. Why would I want to multiply that grief by billions and billions? Since I always feel for the suffering of my children, and children are bound to make choices that bring suffering, how could the plan to keep having offspring forever be the path to eternal joy?”
The more I thought about it, the less I felt inclined to think that eternal increase sounded heavenly. (Mind you, at that point I wasn’t even thinking about the morning sickness, labor and delivery parts of it – just what comes later on.)
So, is God Miserable over Us?
Still, I knew that God is the epitome of love, that God has passions – he feels . But surely, surely heaven isn’t a place where our Heavenly Father sits in perpetual anguish over his children’s choices. How ludicrous to even imagine the Lord weeping and wailing, wringing His hands, pacing the floor as reports of the poor choices of His children flood the heavenly computer screens.
Still, how can God sit up there with His huge capacity for loving His billions of children, and not be miserable knowing what a mess many of us are making of our lives?
Author Gerald Curtis suggests an answer, “If having posterity make bad choices was a cause for self-condemnation and assuming liability for their misuse of agency, Heavenly Father would indeed be the most miserable person in the universe.”
Clearly God does not blame himself or berate himself for the actions of His children. There is another reason, too, that I don’t believe God is miserable: Because misery (so different from sincere sorrow) is caused by short-sightedness and believing Satan’s lies. God knows the beginning from the end and is a God of truth: hence there is no room in his mind or heart for misery.
God’s All-Seeing Eye
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin puts it this way: “We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. Although we may settle for less, Heavenly Father won’t, for he sees us as the glorious beings we are capable of becoming.” 1 Since he sees the beginning to the end, He also sees us becoming those glorious beings. He knows we will.
Gerald Curtis said, “Elder Wirthlin’s statement reminded me that time is measured unto man only … as preoccupied as we are with our present and past faults . a perfect and infinite God can see past that and love in a way that is, for now, beyond our comprehension.”
Our vision is so limited – of ourselves, of our children, of the possibilities in the future. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, much less in the eternities, so we judge by how things are today and sometimes get caught up in unnecessary misery.
I am reminded of a story my friend Patricia told me about Cindy, one of her children. When Cindy’s fifteenth birthday was coming up, her friends contacted Patricia and asked her to help them plan a big surprise birthday party for Cindy. They swore her to secrecy. In the meantime, Cindy asked one after another of her friends to go somewhere with her on the night of her birthday, and they all declined. They wanted Cindy home so they could come and surprise her!
She was heartbroken, and the night before her birthday was crying in her mother’s arms feeling that her friends had all rejected her. Here sits Patricia, holding this sobbing child, knowing that the next day is going to be Cindy’s best birthday ever, but she had to stay true to her promise not to give away the surprise. Her heart ached for her daughter, at the same time rejoiced because of what she knew was just around the corner for her.
God Knows Everything Is Going to Be All Right
How like Heavenly Father’s position with us – he knows the great things in store for us. He knows the progress we will make, the sins we will repent of, the mountains of challenges we will surmount. He knows we will make it to our dearest goals and receive our heart’s desires.
But life is a test, and agency requires that He avoid revealing every detail of the future. He only wraps His loving arms around us, as Patricia did for Cindy, and assures us that everything is going to be all right. I always loved President Hinckley’s optimistic assurances to that effect.
Looking Ahead with Faith
With our children right here and right now, those same principles apply. To stay out of misery we need faith to move ahead, believing everything is going to be all right. We need to remember the big perspective, that God said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), and that our children are part of His work. He won’t forget them. He has their names “graven on the palms of His hand” (1 Nephi 21:16)
Our greatest need is to pray for His kind of love for them – the kind of love that looks at a little child repeatedly falling when he first tries to walk, but smiles with the perfect knowledge that baby will be shortly be running all over the house. No parent wastes time being miserable over all those falls, because he knows the child will get up and try again and eventually succeed. How wonderful if we could maintain that perspective through all the falls and scrapes and momentary failures in our children’s lives.
I love the thought that every experience we have is purposeful. I know that all I’ve experienced has prepared me for what I am doing today. Can we see it the same for our children? There may be no other way for them to ultimately fulfill their life’s mission than to go through the experiences they are having today – however painful.
We Can Be Sad without Being Miserable
There is such a difference between Godly sorrow and just plain misery. There is no doubt God has compassion for our pain – and sadness for our poor choices. I think of the day He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem .
.. how oft would I have gathered my children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). It is reasonable to imagine that He sometimes weeps for and with us.
Jesus wept with Mary, the sister of Lazarus, even though He knew Lazarus would soon be with her again. (See John 11:35.) We know Jesus felt every human emotion to its depths.
God’s Knowledge Gives Him Joy
Sorrow in heaven, however, is surely swallowed up in the knowledge of a glorious future. God never forgets eternal truths such as “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess … that he is God” (Mosiah 27:31). He never forgets that even in the spirit world it is not too late for his children to repent and come to him. D&C 138:58 tell us, “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God.”
He never forgets that even the telestial kingdom is a kingdom of glory and that by the end of the Millennium all but the sons of perdition will have repented, been cleansed, purified and made worthy of eternal joy. He knows that his plan of salvation for his children is perfect, that He created the various kingdoms not to punish us, but to honor agency and offer each person the full measure of glory each person is willing to, capable of, and desirous of receiving.
God has before Him the whole panorama of each of His children’s progression to that state. If “man is that he might have joy” (2 Nephi 225), then surely, God is that he might have joy. He is not up there being miserable about what his children are doing down here today. And we don’t need to be, either. The panorama of knowledge of our eternal progression surely gives Him joy. We can reach up and share glimpses of that joy with Him today and every day.