*On January 15th your Saturday Hoper, Eve, delivered a beautiful baby boy! So luckily for the HopeIsHard family over the next few weeks a few other voices are going to chime in while Baby Spencer gets some qt with his mama. Today we are oh-so happy to welcome the faithful voice of Bethany! Bethany is a wife, mother to two boys, and an educator at an urban charter school. Called to neighborhood ministry, she and her family moved from the suburbs to downtown St. Paul, Minnesota eighteen months ago. She and her husband are passionate advocates for educational equity, social justice, and international adoption.
I am the mother of a strong-willed five-year-old. He is fiercely independent, full of passionate and unwavering determination, and has developed quite the affinity for debate. Occasionally, these qualities, combined with the fact that I am an imperfect mother, can cause conflict within our home. Reading passages from the Scriptures about the nation of Israel, I am reminded that my son’s minor stubbornness pales in comparison to my own rebellion against the Lord. I can see myself so clearly in the Israelites’ refusal to acknowledge the power and provision of the Almighty. But I also take hope that God stands ready to help me love my children the way He loved the Israelites and, in fact, the way He loves me.
In Hosea 11 and 12, the Lord’s relationship with His nation Israel is described as that of a parent and child. While God loved them, took them in His arms, taught them to walk, and fed them, the Israelites offered sacrifices to Baal, refused to repent, and were “bent on backsliding.” God’s love for Israel causes His “heart to be churned” and his “sympathy to be stirred” for his people. He promises not to destroy Israel again, but assures readers that His lion-like roar will draw His sons back to him.
From reading these passages I felt this truth resonate deeply: God’s love for His people depends only on God.
On a horizontal level, the health and longevity of most human relationships depends on each party equally. There is a give and take of emotions, a necessity for each person to invest time and energy into the relationship, and a shared commitment to its continuation. The relationship of a parent to his child is perhaps the only exception to this social norm, making that analogy in this passage a perfect one.
Even in my deep imperfection, on a day when my son is at his most stubborn and conflict abounds, I am still filled with an unconditional love for him. This requires nothing from him. In the same way, I am filled with that same love for my newborn. At seven-weeks-old, he can hardly contribute to our relationship. I provide for his every need without expectation that he would return the efforts or even that he would demonstrate love and commitment to me in any sense. Still, I am filled with love for him, an ability that ultimately comes from the Lord Himself.
I find it so comforting that God’s love for me is this type of Fatherly love. While I make many human efforts to demonstrate my love for Him and to contribute to our relationship, the truth is that I operate much like a combination of my own two children. I am completely incapable of meeting any of my own needs. I depend solely on God to provide for me. All the while I, like the Israelites, brag about all of the wealth I have found for myself.
In addition, I am stubbornly rebellious on most days. I have, more often than I’d like to admit, run in the opposite direction from where God is leading me, hands over my ears, singing “la la la la!” at the top of my lungs. I have refused to repent and become bent on backsliding. I choose to bow my knee at the feet of golden images and refuse to acknowledge the grace and mercy that I have received from my God. Here’s the thing: all of this unacknowledged helplessness and deep stubbornness does nothing to lessen my Father’s love for me. His unconditional love for me will continue to guide me, provide for me, discipline me when needed, and ultimately assure me a home in Heaven. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him.
The other impactful part of these passage that stuck in my spiritual craw is this simple reality: We are a forgetful people.
This passage is evidence of another struggle that the Israelites and I have in common. I like to call it “Spiritual Amnesia.” In Hosea 11, a picture is painted of God teaching Israel to walk and taking them into His arms. Yet, they still “did not know that I have healed them.” In the past ten years of my life, I have been through deep waters and dark nights. Every single time, God has provided deliverance and redemption. Every. Single.Time.
Yet, when the next storm begins to roll in, I am still filled with dread and panic. I still scramble around, attempting to navigate through the choppy water on my own. I allow myself to sink lower and lower into despair, forgetting all that my God has done for me. Last fall, I suffered a miscarriage at 13 weeks. I was devastated and slipped into a period of self-pity and doubt. For a period of time, I completely forgot about all of the other tragedies that God had carried me through. When a loving friend advised me to begin each day by listing the mercies and grace that have colored the pages of my life story, my outlook completely changed. There were still tough days, of course, but I found so much freedom by doing as Israel is instructed in Hosea 12: “wait on your God continually.” He will, as He has time and time again, deliver us and take us into His arms.
When we read stories in the Scriptures about the Israelites, some of us shake our heads and mutter under our breath, “What were they thinking? Are they seriously going to do THAT again?” When we take time to step back, however, we see how much more powerful the Fatherly love of the Almighty becomes in light of the strong-willed and forgetful children known as the nation of Israel.
How undeservedly blessed we are to be beneficiaries of this same Great Love.