I remember meeting my firstborn child for the first time. Of course I do. How could I forget? I remember when I spoke to him the first time, and he turned and looked at me, and this tiny fresh human who had never seen the outside world before recognised my voice, and stopped crying. That was the moment I realised with incredible force that my world could never be the same because part of my heart was now inside the body of a child I didn’t even know yet.
I didn’t have to know him. There would be time for that in the future. It was enough to know in that moment that this helpless person I was meeting for the first time was my son, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would give everything I had for his good—even my own life, if necessary—without hesitation.
I had already experienced many kinds of love in my life by the time I met my son. I had known the love of my parents and relatives, my friends, my wife—and each love was beautiful, and each taught me its own lessons about giving and receiving love. Yes, there was pain in some of those lessons—in the times we failed and disappointed and frustrated each other—but I also knew about the richness of reconciliation, and the depth that only comes on the other side of mutual forgiveness. And yet, even with all of these experiences, the sheer weight of parental love still surprised me.
Some people resist parenthood altogether because they know in advance that they will lose their independence in new ways, and never regain it. They are not wrong. There is no going back. When your heart splits open and grows in another human, the two parts never fully separate. A connection remains. The pains and joys of that other person now pass along an invisible thread and reverberate inside your own chest. You don’t get to make a choice about this. You don’t have the privilege of deciding that this person is the one you will connect with, the one you will bind your heart to, like deciding who you will marry. This connection is different. It already exists, full strength, before you even know the child, before they have a chance to earn your love or reject it. If they do reject it, the connection remains, deep and strong, even when it hurts terribly.
When I met my son that day, I suddenly realised why the father of the prodigal in Jesus’ parable ran so hard to welcome the return of his son who had rejected him. Of course he did. It was his son. It was his own heart. But the thing that amazes me the most, the thing that still makes my jaw drop with wonder and my heart sing with praise, is this: that the God of the universe identified himself as the father in that story, and that he welcomes me—tiny little helpless me!—to run into his arms as his own child. He gave everything—even his own life, when necessary—to love his children. Now he runs to welcome any prodigal who will simply come home to him. The weight of this love still surprises me. I suppose it always will, even through eternity.