THE problem of teen-age runaways is just one indicator of the need for a refined and strengthened understanding of parental love. As with all facets of human experience, the Holy Bible gives us healing direction in parenting. The life and teachings of Christ Jesus are particularly instructive. In his relationship with his disciples and with those who were drawn to his teaching and healing ministry, Jesus expressed two important aspects of parental love: cherishing and disciplining.
Jesus knew no Father but God. And, in a very profound sense, he knew no man but the child of God. While those who flocked to his side may have felt quite separate from God, with lives in varying degrees of disarray, Jesus' healing works show us that he cherished a higher view of man as infinitely better than a sick or sinful mortal. They show us that he perceived others in their true being as the spiritual, perfect offspring of the divine Parent.
He also disciplined his followers. While sometimes seen as including a punitive element, the concept of discipline is far more on the side of instruction and training. Jesus' instruction pointed the way to salvation for all of us.
When our parenting includes the cherishing and disciplining love Jesus expressed, it is worthy of the admonition Proverbs extends to our children: ``My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother.... For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.''1
Parental love in its purest, spiritual sense doesn't try to create perfect, well-behaved individuals out of immature, disruptive mortals. Rather it acknowledges as already present the God-given qualities that constitute true individuality, and this helps bring out that individuality. It encourages self-government in children.
The Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy,2 states, ``Children should obey their parents; insubordination is an evil, blighting the buddings of self-government.''3 And it says, ``Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his Maker, divine Truth and Love.''4
Our own expression of parenting love actually reflects our Father-Mother God's parenting love for His children. Parental love that emulates the divine fits children to eventually parent themselves -- to see in themselves what God has truly created and to act accordingly. As we parents better understand the nature of that love and more consistently live it, we strengthen our children's ability to do the same.
Prayerful affirmation of the legitimacy of parental love that both cherishes and disciplines was instrumental in a young runaway's return home. The young woman's parents were encouraged to go beyond personal recrimination or self-doubt and to appreciate more their own God-given ability to express God's parenting love in caring for their daughter. They were also encouraged to recognize their daughter's ability to feel their love toward her as well as her ability to express love herself. She returned home, and both parents and child showed a renewed effort to resolve challenges in their relationship.
One of the Ten Commandments calls on us to ``honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.''5 This command is pivotal in family relations. As parents honor God's love by reflecting that love to their children, both they and their children will feel the fullness of life that comes from living within God's tender, chastening love for all.
1Proverbs 6:20, 23. 2The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, p. 236. 4Ibid., p. 106. 5Exodus 20:12. You can find more articles about spiritual healing in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.