Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Every once in a while, I ask God why free will is so important. I mean, it would be easier if kids would potty-train on command, go to bed without 16 reminders and getting somewhat louder. Parenting would be so much easier if they ate vegetables and brushed their teeth every night, without asking. It would be easier if they cleaned their rooms and did their homework without nagging. It would be easier to live this life, if it didn't require so much of us to make it baseline.
Except it wouldn't. If we learn anything from the constant drama and misery that comes out of the real lives of the rich, famous and powerful, it’s that having a life of ease does not make loving others easier. In fact, it often makes it harder than ever, because there aren’t the natural sacrifices of time and energy and talent that come from having a life that requires ordinary every day labor. Having no struggles, means no growth. Having no trials means no surrendering of self. It isn’t because wealth and luxury are bad, but they do insulate one from having to do anything one does not will to do, and that makes loving, whether another person or God, difficult.
Still, I complain about it to God. Because we have free will, I struggle with my weight, with student loans, with dust bunnies multiplying by the gross. The good I should do, I don’t always get to, and the stuff I should not eat, I eat. So God, how is it a good plan to give us all this freedom to mess up in all the ways we can mess up? I can make a healthy dinner for my kids, but I can’t always make them eat it. Love requires free will in receiving as much as giving, and that's the hard part of parenting as we all know. Even God knows this... from the very first. He gave them everything, and still the kids messed it up. Why would we think we could do better teaching our kids to manage freedom?
The gift of parenting is learning that it is a means of our salvation, that is, it is a cross. Loving these people will teach us to deny ourselves, deny sleep, deny “me time,” deny outside interests in favor of their interests. Loving these people through time, through their trials and struggles and heart aches and growing pains, will teach us to love unconditionally as God loves us. It will involve struggles and sufferings and surrender, and if we love as we do all of this, we won’t count the cost. We’ll consider the gift of decades of time and whatever money we pour out in the process of living to be a mere trifle, because it allowed us the privilege of loving these people and being there for them.
It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle or a surrender.
Jesus willed to stay on the cross out of love, He didn’t love being on the cross. There’s this idea that if you love, it won’t hurt. It’s not true. If you love it will hurt, because you’ll care. You’ll worry if your child has too many friends, or too few, or is too bookish, or not enough, too brave or too nervous, it doesn’t matter what your child is, you will worry, because you can’t stop him or her from encountering pain in a fallen world. You can’t stop him or her from making decisions you wouldn’t, or quitting things you wish they wouldn’t, or refusing to take on habits you hoped they would. Free will is just that, the freedom to will or will not.
If we need further proof of the necessity of allowing us all this indulgent freedom in our lives, look at how much mercy we need on a daily basis in our own relationships, and multiply it by the world and the history of the world to get a sense of how often we need grace — how often we need another day, another moment, to begin again. How delighted God must be each time we opt to rededicate ourselves, in both the big and little ways that life and love require. We’re always free to love them more, to love God more, and that’s the crazy part of God’s gift of free will. It’s designed to allow us to always be free to love more.