I love a book that helps me understand the world from someone else’s perspective. I just finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. He speaks colorfully of his experience as a cultural emigrant moving from a poor, white, “hillbilly” family to Yale law school. He describes a turbulent childhood in which he loses touch with his father and experiences both emotional and physical violence at the hands of his drug-addicted mother. As a teenager, J.D. moves in with his father who has made some changes and is now the head of a loving and peaceful home. It’s an objectively calmer, safer place. But J.D. just can’t get comfortable there because he doesn’t know the list of behaviors required for his father’s love, provision and acceptance.
I didn’t know how much of our new relationship was built on his sense that I was a good kid. That not knowing gnawed at me to the point that I could no longer take it. J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. cannot handle the unrest of not knowing his father’s unconditional love. And the problem is not that his father is unwilling to offer it, but it has to be offered in a way that J.D. can understand. And then J.D. has to accept it.
So much of my relationship with my kids rests on this mutual assurance of unconditional love on my side. And it’s not something I can just speak into existence. Which brings me to one of the readings for this week…
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Romans 4:16
In order that the promise may rest on grace. The gospel promise that I have been made right with God, that I am welcome in his house does not rest on the law – on any list of behaviors or accomplishments. It rests on grace. And that assurance of love that depends not on me but on a loving parent is absolutely necessary for me as a believer in the way that it is for a healthy childhood. Really, everything falls apart without it. So, my Lenten prayer this week to “the God whose glory it is always to have mercy” is to walk, think and speak from that assurance.
My deepest awareness of myself is that I’m deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel