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In the opening chapters, Dr. Kimmel reminds us that children need three main things to flourish in life: a secure love, a significant purpose, and a strong hope. Then he devotes a chapter to each one. Today, we’re talking about the first of the three, secure love. Our example to follow is God the Father, who pursued us with compassion and grace, even when we had sinned.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God… This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?... In all these things are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31b-32, 37-39)
As parents, we all want to love our children. But saying we love them, and even doing things to communicate that to them is not quite enough. They need to know that we will love them no matter what, even when it is inconvenient, when they are ungrateful, or when it costs us greatly. They should not have to compete against our hobbies or careers for our attention, or feel like they have to earn our love through performance.
“Love is the commitment of my will
to your needs and best interests,
regardless of the cost.”
We make decisions based on our covenants and priorities, so we need to carefully consider and meet the actual needs of our children. This doesn’t mean that we give them everything they want, side with them when they are wrong, or shield them from reasonable consequences. This would be catering to selfishness, not need.
Dr. Kimmel uses 3 “A” words to remind us that children feel secure and loved then they are accepted as they are, affiliated with a loving and honoring family, and when they receive regular and generous helpings of affection.
So we don’t want to subject them to a barrage of nitpicking criticism, or put them down because they are curious, excited, helpless, or absent-minded. We don’t want to tease them for how they look or what is happening to their growing bodies. Instead, we must learn to cherish and steward their unique personalities, gifts, and dreams. And we must remember that “God has hard-wired our skin to our souls… With rare exceptions, children are especially responsive to meaningful tender touch.”
So far, I’ve mainly recounted what Dr. Kimmel has said, but I would like to extend this to a few related reflections of my own.
I have always loved the stories in Matthew 19:13-14 and Mark 9:33-37 of how Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them and how he encouraged adults to receive the children “like this.” It’s more our attitude than the exact action that counts. For example, some of my children prefer not to be hugged or kissed quite as much but they still need for me to convey my attitude of affection. Instead, I might give them a pat or rub on the back, or an air kiss and a big smile from across the room, or simply a spoken, “I love you and I’m so proud of you.” I don’t stop the affection when they leave home and can’t see us in person. There is always the phone, e-mail, and Skype to keep us connected.
It’s has often been said that kids need a firm foundation of secure love from their parents so that they won’t go looking for counterfeit substitutes, such as twisted people who will take advantage of a young person’s emotional need for their own selfish gain, or well-meaning but misguided peers who will take them down moral paths they shouldn’t go. I am not saying that we should be the only ones who love our children, the only ones they should trust. Part of healthy parenthood is launching them into nurturing relationships with others outside our family. That’s an essential for their future marriages – leaving us and cleaving to their spouse. And certainly everyone needs good friends and a good faith-family (church and Christian organizations) to supplement what we have already given them in our homes. But it starts at home. That’s the foundation. If they lack a secure love from us, they are starting off at a serious disadvantage. So are they going to learn what a healthy relationship looks like in the workshop of our family life, or find it out by trial and error?
I think back on my own relationships, not only as a child or teen but into adulthood. Yes, I was burned a few times by people who claimed to love me. However, I have also been quite blessed by those who really did. The family and friends I have bonded with most closely are the ones who have expressed unconditional acceptance to me by their words or actions. I can tell them anything and know they will still stick with me no matter what. I can trust them. But they don’t just put up with me and my "life messes" out of a sense of duty. I’m not their pity project, but their authentic friend. They also affirm the good things they see in my life and cheer me on toward greatness. They make me feel special and valued for who God made me to be. They are lifelong friends, lifelong gifts to me.
My grandmother, parents, brother, sister, and I
I am fortunate as an adult to have that kind of relationship with my own parents, siblings, and extended family. Though they live several hundreds of miles away from me, I try to see them as often as I can. I particularly treasure a memory of my father from about a year ago. I was agitated, fearful, and feeling very devalued. As soon as he saw this, he knelt down by my chair to comfort and encourage me. His quiet yet powerful words infused me with honor, worth, courage, purpose, and hope. And he followed up on that with other conversations and with sacrificial actions. His tenderness and commitment toward me then nearly brings me to tears even now. My father is not a religious man and there are many areas where we don’t see eye to eye, but I know he loves me no matter what our differences. The love I receive from him and from my sweet mother is a secure love. That’s the legacy I want to give my own children.