Since my son came into the world, the way I have come to experience love can only be described as transcendent. I have an expanded sense of self, and this expansiveness makes me feel infinitely more connected to the world. I now more fully comprehend an important truth from holy scripture: we are called to love all people.
For me, this call is rooted in the simple yet profound acknowledgement that every single human being is someone’s child. When I became a parent, I became intensely responsible for—and attached to—a life outside my own, which has made me acutely aware of the needs of others, and the ways in which I’m responsible for attending to those needs.
All of this comes with a heightened sense of suffering, too. I suffer with my son—when he’s sick, when he hurts himself, or when he’s hurt by somebody else. But there’s surely a holiness in this suffering. In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr puts it this way: “Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred space, it’s going to feel like suffering. It’s letting go of what we’re used to. That causes suffering.”
Parenting has certainly led me into this kind of sacred space. And now that I’m here, I’m increasingly called to act virtuously—first and foremost for the benefit of my family, but also for the benefit of all families. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, tells us that “the nature of virtue is that it should direct [man and woman] to good.” This is what parenting has done to me and for me. It’s not that I didn’t desire to be a good person before, but the whole idea has been taken out of the abstract and into the concrete, the practical.
Loving others is what we are here to do. And it is only through my relationships with family and friends, especially my son, that this divine reality has become my reality, too.
In Just Love, Margaret Foley tells us that “it is . . . in and through our relationality that we as humans both transcend and possess ourselves” (Farley, 213). I like this language. By loving my son, I’m able to “possess” myself by owning the new self-concept and direction that parenthood has instilled in me, and I’m able to “transcend” myself through my growing sense that we are all connected to each other.
My sense of justice, or desire for equality, for all of humanity arises from this growing understanding—an understanding granted to me by my relationships. In order to foster the love I feel for my son in such a way that it continues to expands into love for all people, I’ve worked to make a habit of practicing gratitude. In The Spirituality of Parenting, Kathy Hendricks argues that gratitude is the most natural reaction to “the transformative potential within parenting and how it leads us to decisions that are far better for our hearts and souls.”
She adds: “When observing something within the moment for which to be grateful—whether it’s keeping up with the boundless energy of a ten-year-old or rocking a colicky baby back to sleep—the heart softens and yields to the joy of being wrapped in God’s care.”
When we experience love for our children and intentionally practice gratefulness for this love, our love becomes transcendent. This transcendent love is exactly what’s needed to ultimately make us feel the countless ways we belong to one another.
Becoming a parent has helped me clearly hear the call to work toward a world that is truly hospitable to all people. It’s the same call that Jesus shares in his New Commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So here’s to discipleship—the kind that transcends all boundaries. The kind that makes us grateful to be a person in the world.