There's one in every family, but I'm glad my brother John Robert is the youngest.
He's one of those geniuses who started reading "War and Peace" in eighth grade, aced college courses in high school and scored crazy high on the SATs. My sisters and I agree that we're very proud of him, but are grateful we didn't have to follow his footsteps. As the oldest, I did my part and set the academic bar pretty low. I was a late reader and horrible at math.
While my less-than-stellar math skills didn't bring much in scholarships, it held a unique reward. Hours -- ahem, days -- spent at the kitchen table with my dad as he helped me with my homework. He's an accountant, but he never met my polar opposite skill set with any frustration or disappointment. Even when I'd make absurd mistakes that produced unreasonable answers, he'd simply point out that the wrong answer was probably linked to my thinking that three times three was 33. He spent years assisting me with equations that he had solved in his head before I'd finished writing the first line.
I've forgotten most of the math I learned from Dad (thank goodness for the calculator app and Excel spreadsheets) but I can look back on those moments and realize that the greatest lesson gained from those sessions at the kitchen table wasn't arithmetic, but unconditional love.
I wasn't a complete dud as a child -- I was an OK artist, sang in the choir and showed signs of being a decent writer by the time I graduated. My parents praised me for this, but it wasn't these moments that cemented my knowledge of their love. It was the moments when my self-esteem was lowest and I felt that I couldn't do anything right -- especially geometry -- that I knew what "unconditional" really meant.
Hopefully, you've had a similar experience with your family or friends -- the experience of being loved not for what you are able to do, but simply for who you are. I've realized that my kitchen-table-tutoring experience is only a tiny insight into the reality of unconditional love -- the love that God has for us, his creation.
This is the crux of what we celebrated on Easter. That "Christ, while we were still helpless ... died at the appointed time for the ungodly." St. Paul continues that, "with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person, one might even find the courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 6-8).
God sent his son to die for us, not when humanity had attained perfection but after we had disobeyed and continued to fail to live as we should.
In Christ, we see the unconditional love of God and our true worth. Our value comes not from what we are able to do but that we are created and loved by God and he awaits us in heaven.
Columnist Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.