My teen son recently got his driver’s license. It’s been a complicated emotional adjustment for me. Author Elizabeth Stone says having a child “is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Stone’s description has been accurate for me, but now my heart drives a motor vehicle on the freeway. I notice I hold my breath a lot more than I used to, and my prayers for my family’s safety are suddenly a lot more sincere.
To my relief, he’s a generally cautious driver. He’d rather drive around the world than make a tricky left-hand turn, so I was surprised when he said he was impressed with his dad’s driving skills.
“Dad is like a ninja,” my kid told me. “He can cross, like, four lanes of traffic and make his exit — no big deal. It’s the thing I admire most about him.”
“Really?” I said. “That’s what you admire most about your father?”
“Well, I used to just admire that he is kind and a good provider,” he said, “But that was before I learned to drive. Now that I am driving, I better understand how awesome his lane-changing is.”
My son’s comments got me thinking that it’s not until we try to do something ourselves that we can appreciate someone else’s effort and skill.
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I understood how hard my own parents worked to give me a happy childhood.
My daughter and I applaud hard at ballet performances because we’ve taken enough dance classes to know just how difficult those pretty fouette turns are.
At school art shows, my other son points out details in ceramic pieces the rest of us don’t notice. He knows how challenging it is to find the balance between beautiful and sturdy. The reason experts make their skill set look effortless is because they’ve practiced it plenty. If I wanted to gain a deeper appreciation for more people and more skills, I needed to try out a few new skills.
As I often do, I pondered God’s love for his children and decided to apply this concept to learning to love better. For a few days, I made a concerted effort to love everyone I saw, and try to appreciate them from the perspective of their heavenly parents.
Easier said than done. People can be jerks and my habit of jumping to irritation runs deep.
The lady waiting at the bus stop; the kids crossing the street to school; the neighbor who waved at me — they all got my immediate affection and good wishes.
The guy who cut me off in traffic gave me pause. I turned on the radio to hear headlines and wrestled to muster some loving feelings towards newsmakers whose choices hurt others. I turned the radio off.
For days, I worked on maintaining a generous perspective towards the people around me. Every other encounter — particularly with my own family; the people I know and love most deeply — I slipped back into judgmental impatience. I realized I was in the habit of hoping others judge me only by my good intentions, while rigidly holding everyone else accountable for their often clumsy or petty actions.
Christ cuts me plenty of slack and offers me infinite chances to start over without baggage — but it took all my effort to show even a fraction of that charity for other folks.
I remain desperately far from being as loving as I’d like to be. Clearly, this deliberate perspective shift will have to be an ongoing effort.
But I have gained a profound appreciation for God’s love, and the savior’s infinite mercy. This I know: If you want to appreciate God, try to be more like him.
My teenage son has not practiced driving enough to make multiple lane changes, but he knows enough to appreciate his father’s skill.
I am still just learning to love, but I rejoice in Heaven’s endless generosity.