Payback

bobby posting:

Alexi Murdoch – “All My Days”

Last Friday I had one of those lovely little lunches with the parents.  My wife and I have had a healthy bit of double dating with them ever since we moved back home (to within 5 minutes of both of our parents’ houses).  We always laugh a lot and enjoy some good food.  But more than anything, we just enjoy each other.  It’s a really great place to be.  It makes me proud of Amy and my mom every time they laugh at/with each other.  That whole in-law thing can be tricky, but we’ve both been blessed with great relationships (after some work, I must add) on that front.  But that’s another blog post for another day.  After the meal, I did my normal routine and pretended to get out my wallet and offer to pick up the meal (which I have actually done…once).  At this point, my stepdad always snatches the check and always pays for it.  If we’re not completely broke, me and the missus pick up the tip.  Think my folks are losing on that deal, but they always seem gracious and generous and happy and pleased as can be about it all.  We are both always grateful and appreciative.  And most of the time, I feel some sense of being forever indebted to their kindness.  But should I?  Am I missing the point?

Later that day I hopped in my Pops’ suburban and headed over to his office to move out his things.  Both of my parents have recently been laid off.  I have been absolutely awestruck by their response to this monumental happening, but again…that’s another blog post for another day.  After 5 hours of grueling lifting and loading, of carrying a desk that had to be made from the most solid, giant, lead-filled tree ever made my God, the two of us had finally finished the task.  We’d cleared out his old work space and moved it all home, that giant piece of office furniture somehow lonely and out of place in his new “office space” in my sister’s old bedroom.  I felt worn out and weary, a bit sad and a lot sore.  I stepped outside and thought some good old end-of-the-day thoughts on the best place to do such a thing, the front porch.

I was feeling a tad bit guilty about my parents paying for our meal earlier.  Did me helping with the big move make up for it?  Were we even now?  Hey, maybe since the move was such a big task it made up for lunch and the last movie night that they’d paid for.  Did it make up for the ice cream date they picked up recently?  Maybe that’s going too far.

What about bigger things?  Would there be a way that I could ever pay them back for ways they supported me all through childhood?  Countless soccer trips with dues and hotel rooms and food and gas and equipment and time and time and time?  A car with insurance and more gas and way too much of a familiarity with local towing companies and car repair garages?  Home cooked meals almost every night of the week?  Half of what I owed for my college tuition?  A honeymoon in paradise?  A down payment on a house?  A closet full of clothes?  And of course, in all of it, I didn’t choose the cheapest option.  We didn’t exactly honeymoon in El Dorado, and for college I wasn’t exactly getting “in state” tuition, if you know what I mean.

Just writing it all out makes me realize a couple of things:

1 / I’ll never be able to write it “all”.  There’s things I’ve never even thought about.  There’s the doctor and dentist, and everything in between and after the crib and college.

2 / More importantly, though, it’s not about the money.  It never was.  It never should be.  Furthermore, my whole idea of “paying them back” is such a warped American idea that it completely misses the point.  What’s worse…this idea blatantly bleeds into another major walk of my life.

Spiritually, I find myself overwhelmed with the gift that God has given.  I find myself defeated with guilt and the thought that I’ll never be able to come close to that sacrifice of self.  I find myself hiding from God because I have not given “enough” recently or, better yet, ever.  I find myself justifying certain amounts of time I spend in Scripture, whether it’s a lot or a little.  I find myself playing that same game with prayer.  If I’m really lacking, God must be tapping his foot in anticipation for more.  If I’m really engrossed in all of it, God must be saying a prayer of gratitude and praise to Bobby for his faithfulness and generosity.

To put it simply, I think I’m missing the point.  In fact, I know I am.  Badly.

But you do it too, don’t you?  I’m not alone here.  That, in and of itself, is both comforting and confounding.  It’s bittersweet.  I wish we didn’t think like this.  I wish I didn’t think like this.  I wish I didn’t live like this.

My parent’s didn’t buy me lunch so that I’d help them move a bunch of boxes and office furniture.  Just like they didn’t give me lunch money growing up so that I’d rake the lawn and keep my room clean.  Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.  But seriously, they didn’t support me in every way growing up, financially and otherwise, so that I’d one day buy them a beach house and a sports car.  Although I think this dream did finally come to a crash in my Mom’s mind when I left the TV business for full-time ministry.

Listen, God didn’t give his Son so that we’d spend all of our waking hours doing our best to pay Him back for it.  In fact, why he did it isn’t as much of a mystery as we all often make it out to be.  The most widely known verse in the world tells us everything we need to know:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”

Did you catch it?  It’s right there and we miss it all the time.  I certainly missed it for the first 10 or so years of my Christian journey.  I still miss it often today.  Why did He give?  Why do the good parents of the world do the same?  Because they “so love” us.  That’s it.  They don’t give for any other reason. Man, that’s hard to hold on to.  It goes against everything we practice in our society.  There’s no payback.  No I.O.U. or even bartering.  There’s nothing there but love.  Yes, we are called to love back.  But we are loved regardless.  We are not so loved SO THAT we will express love in return.  That wouldn’t be love.  We’re simply loved…and that’s it.  Nothing else.

This kind of self realization can lend oneself to smile more and stress less, but that doesn’t mean that it makes everything easier.  It’s the kind of weighty understanding that makes you look at your folks and your God with something deeper.  It’s not that I want to pay them back anymore.  It’s that I want to love them back.  Sure that whole love thing is easier said than done.  But the doing, or at the very least, the trying, will certainly be worth it.  In fact, it will be “it”.  It’s something I’m just beginning to grasp as my wife is now nearly 5 months pregnant.  The love I already have for this child is beyond anything I’ve ever felt.  It’s the kind of love that would cause a man to put himself last, to give and give and give unconditionally.  I’m going to love this kid in spite of all those diapers that are soon to come.  Just like my parents did.  Just like my God does with the mess I still make everyday.  That’s love, and that’s all it is.  That’s all there is.

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3 responses to “Payback

  • Charles

    Wise, mature post. There’s a sermon here to preach. I think you have a message of the Father’s heart the world needs to hear. The message surely will grow in intensity with the impending birth. May you be a clear expression of the Father’s heart. I see you not only writing, but preaching this message.

  • zdillon

    I am not sure whether I have been saving or avoiding your post for the last few days. Part of me has been too busy to want to think and another part of me wanted to hold on to the surprise for the right moment. I realize now that I desperately need these words. I need to learn to love instead of do. Not sure what that looks like… I do know it looks like working my butt off to clear my schedule for when my dear friends come into town.

    Miss ya bud.

  • Emily (Zach's mom)

    Bobby, I love reading what you guys write on ViaChicago, but this post especially spoke to me. By describing so beautifully a parent’s unconditional love (which I get completely) you gave me a window to understanding God’s love (which I don’t get much of the time.) Maybe it really isn’t as complicated as I make it out to be.

    PS. Congrats to you and Amy. Clearly you already know how awesome it will be.

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