The Four Children: A Modern Parable

Once there was a mother who had four adopted children. All of them were beautiful and each one celebrated!

The first child was very a justice-oriented and diligent child. A hard worker who used to tell her mother “Thank you so much for adopting me. I can’t imagine how hard that was for you to go through. I know it was expensive too probably. But don’t worry. I will repay you by serving you around the house every day and when I grow up I will go make lots of money and build you a house, a really nice house, to show you I am grateful and how much I love you.”

Her mother always noticed the labors of love and acts of service but wished the child would stop long enough to really know the mother’s love, which was not shown only once at adoption, but was poured out every day for the child. She often invited the child to come close for a hug or a talk. She tried to give the child gifts, but the child refused with a noble flair. “Don’t worry about me. I don’t need to be coddled. I’ll show you my love by how excellently I work–look at this floor shine. You’ll be so proud of me.” How sad that the mother never expected or needed the floors to shine. But this child still felt the need to do more to earn the right to be loved. She often deals with extreme feelings of guilt and perfectionism. These feelings were all lies. Daily the mother told the child, “I’m proud of you because you’re mine. Not because of what you can do for me.” But she couldn’t even hear her.

The second child was very artistic. The mother gave him gifts of beautiful paper to work with so he would be able to tell his stories through art. He used to make beautiful paper flowers and bring them to his mother. His mother loved these simple but intricate, heartfelt gifts. Often she would invite the child to sit on her lap, but the little boy declined, saying, “Mother, I have so much love for you that I will do more than just sit around with you. I will do something about it! I’ve got this idea burning in my soul for a new design and so I need to get out right now. I have been feeling really full of love for you and these next two flowers will really express that. Just wait! You’ll treasure them forever.” So he sat at the table making flower after flower expressing all his feelings for his mother, while his mother waited for the day her son would take a break and just come sit and talk with her. He was so distracted with his craft and doing things “for his mother” that he was too busy to sit in the mother’s lap and be loved. He often finds himself doubting his worth and value. This fear was a lie. Daily the mother told the child, “You are valuable to me because you’re mine. Not because of what you can make for me or give to me.” But he couldn’t even hear her.

The third child was intelligent, meticulous, and thorough. She would think and ruminate about their family and what could be done to make it run more effectively and efficiently. She counted the income and planned out meals. She looked ahead to the weather and warned everyone when a storm was coming. She was so responsible that it made the mother wonder why the child did not trust that the mother would provide money and clothes and food. This manic planning and preparation seemed to be the only thing that gave the child a sense of control. So the mother often cried as she watched the child insist on laboring over matters of household management while she waited for the day her child could be brave enough (or scared enough) to actually trust that her mother was able to take care of their family. This poor child often felt immense anxiety, pressure, and false urgency. These pressures were all lies. Daily the mother told the child, “I protect and provide for you because you’re mine. Not because of how careful you are.” But she couldn’t even hear her.

Now, the fourth child was the youngest. She couldn’t do much around the house. She had not learned to make beautiful things. She couldn’t read or count yet. And with this child the mother could sit and read and speak tender word of affection between them. The mother would give the child simple tasks and once completed, the child would run back to the mother. She stayed right by her side all the time. If you listened closely you could hear the mother whisper all the time to the child. “I love you because you’re mine.” And the girl believed it. And because she stayed so close so often, she could hear her mother’s voice, even at a whisper.

Then one day, the mother needed to deliver a dinner invitation to the person who lived across the street. She asked the diligent child, but they were too busy trying to earn her approval and the approval of man. She asked the artist, but they were too busy trying to express themselves and their own message. She asked the meticulous child, but they were afraid and tried to convince the mother to wait until they had assessed the situation first.

So the mother asked the youngest. Least qualified. Least talented. Least capable.

They youngest willingly and joyfully grabbed the invitation, clamored out the door, into the yard, and across the street carrying the message, joyful that the mother had counted her worthy to do what she needed. The mother watched the child run and as the wind flew through her baby’s hair, she laughed. What joy it was to see this little one run in obedience. The other children didn’t even notice. They didn’t notice as the mother and youngest child told them over and over to get ready and prepare for the feast. They didn’t notice as the mother and daughter got dressed in the most beautiful gowns. But when the doorbell rang, they were caught off guard. By the time they got cleaned up from their tasks and dressed, the others had already left for the dinner party. The three children left behind felt so unloved, misunderstood, and forgotten. If only their mother had loved them as much as the youngest. They had tried so hard.

So which child did the mother love more?

None.

Which child truly knew the love of their mother?

Only one. The one who obeyed was not the only one asked. But the one who listened and obeyed was the child who spent time at her mother’s side and was well acquainted with her need.

Because there is only one necessary thing to know love and peace.

Sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He is saying. (Luke 10:42)

Obedience is only possible when you come close enough to hear and know the voice of Jesus. It is no coincidence that the one who is the most reliant and available to pursue quality time was the one ready to listen, trust and obey. Obedience is not what earns us God’s love. As His children, we already have it. Obedience is the reward of the one who is close to the heart of God.

Turns out. Without love, we have nothing.

We can’t give love until we have received it from Him (1 John 4:10-19). He loves everyone and wants all to come to Him (Isaiah 45:22, 1 Timothy 2:4). And God loved us while we were still His enemies and made us His children (Romans 5:10, Galatians 4:6). And God pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5)

In case you’re wondering who those four children are-they are all me. And thank God I’m growing younger every day.

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Luke 13:23-25

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. John 14:23-24

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