It began one weekend at the kitchen counter in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. I was searching for local Bible Study groups in hopes of joining, but after not finding a gathering that fit my schedule, I looked up Reformed Theological Seminary’s website. There, I found an incredible tuition discount that I couldn’t resist. I enrolled in two Certificate Programs, one in Old Testament and another in New Testament.
This fall is my third class and thus far, I’ve dipped my toe in relevant historical contexts about the Ancient Near East and Jewish-Palestinian culture that provide greater clarity to scripture. I’ve had space to engage topics of the Bible with curiosity which often means asking more questions. I’ve grown in awe of how seemingly different sections and periods of the Bible connect and flow in unity. Equally, I have permission to not know, leave some areas of understanding a mystery as I shift resources to learning again, how to prepare for an exam and write a thesis, which have been a challenge. However, some of the more surprising learning occurred outside of academia and with no lectern in sight; they happened in my living room.
I opened an email with a link to the final exam grade. It’s not a favorable sign when the comment reads that I am eligible for a retake. I braced myself.
Click … “Oh no!”
My family was aware that I was waiting, checking multiple times a day, for this notification. So when they heard my cry, they asked, “What did you get?” My chin and shoulders dropped. My back slouched and my stomach caved into the chair. I slowly let out, “I got a D.”
One of my daughters sprang from the nearby sofa and came next to where I was seated in front of the open laptop and my hands holding up the side of my face and forehead. She lifted her cellphone close to her and began scrolling intently. After finding what she had been searching for, she reached out her arm and shared her screen.
Her voice was energized, like she had been waiting for this moment to reveal her less than desirable quiz scores. Had I not been preoccupied with my own disappointment and second guessing the decision to invest resources—time, finances, mental and emotional capacity, that of that my own and my family’s—I would have easily, without thought, questioned my daughter’s performance. Instead, I found myself saying the unimaginable—“Your grades are better than mine.” I compared; I was jealous.
Then my other daughter who was nearby, observing our exchange added, “You are not defined by a letter or a grade.” She spoke the very message my husband and I have been praying she would know and own; I am not defined by my performance, circumstance, or striving. I am instead, defined by my relationships.
While responsibility, faithfulness, stewardship, effort and caring about the tasks you are entrusted with are valuable, my family revealed that my focus was on what is momentary, fade and pass away. And similar to the credit card commercial that ends with the tagline, “priceless”, I was gifted a priceless moment to bond with my daughter over our shared experiences. I learned that my poverty and failure made room for hers. She felt an absence of judgment, condemnation, shame. She felt free to run to me to confess, “I messed up too.” We were able to commiserate, console, and even find comfort together.
The second moment was the first day of in-person class. The previous classes were taken on-line due to the impact of the pandemic and personal scheduling issues. So this day marked a new chapter. I planned my 45 minute route to the school including a stop for a hot latte. My daughters had a few more days of summer break before their official start so they, ironically, sent me off.
They took customary, commemorative “first day” photos while I held up a homemade sign. One daughter made sure I had all my supplies and smiled with reassurance and excitement. My other daughter put her arms around me, looked at me and began a first day speech. It included all the things we had told them sprinkled with some of her own—remember who you are; say hi to the teacher; be a buddy not a bully; make good friends; make good choices; we love you. I laughed, thanked them, hugged and kissed and closed the driver’s seat door and cried. When did we reverse roles?
Later, they greeted me with a high pitched “How was your school, the first day?” Their unexpected enthusiasm on my behalf caught me off guard and caused me to pause. Who am I to receive such child-like care, joy, and pride? The answer may be obvious and yet, they gave so freely and willingly which is no small gesture and certainly, not to be taken for granted.
On the one hand, I felt unworthy, but on the other, awe for they embodied a greater reversal. They pointed to Christ, who although “was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself… And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-9) Jesus deliberately left his rightful place beside the Father in order to become the final payment for our insurmountable debt—sin. Moreover, He withheld nothing but gave us everything when “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
It is tremendously humbling to receive from our children what we’ve naturally provided as a parent, especially when it’s generously initiated by them. But it is in this earthly role reversal where Christ is imaged, and we are invited to remember the undeserving nature of his grace.
Next time our children celebrate, delight, cheer us on, may we bless how God is using them to be conduits of heavenly kindness and receive graciously from them, the hands and feet of Christ.
The article can be also found on the SOLA Network.