You know the verse right, “We love him because he first loved us.” (I John 4:19) Well, I always thought I understood it. We love God because he first loved us. To me it always meant like, we love him back. So I could use the analogy of the sweet crush you find out about (not the creepy kind) and see how much someone has loved you from afar and you can’t help but love them back. But as I’ve become a mother, I’ve realized it’s not just a love him back type of a thing. It’s the fact that we love at all is because of his love. We don’t simply reciprocate. We have the capacity because he’s given it to us, and taught it to us. We love, because he loves.
I was thinking about this when my two year old laid down with me on the couch and said “I love you so much Mommy.” It’s so sweet, and I love it when he tells me he loves me. But how does he know how to love me? Would he say that to me if he never heard it from me? He didn’t call me Mommy until he heard the word mommy numerous times and figured out that that was the title for “The nice lady that does everything for me.” Or at that time, “My talking bottle.” But does he love me? Does he know what that means? Does he just know it makes me happy when he says it? If he’s saying it to make me happy, then it’s because he loves me, rather he truly knows what that means or not, right? I think that when we say it to him, and show him affection, he learns more of what that means. And when we say it to him with a big happy hug, he learns a bit more of what it means. Then when he’s sad, and gets a kiss on his boo boo, and “I love you honey, it’ll be ok.” He learns more yet. How can you define love? You can’t. You can show it though, and express it. I venture to say my two year old has a better understanding of love than some adults.
I have some experience with adults that were not shown much affection, or told they were loved much as children. Do you know it’s hard for those people to become comfortable with the words “I love you”? Not impossible, but it takes time. Once again, they have to be taught. When they are able to say it, and even if they really do mean it, it’s also often hard for them to know how to show it. Not knowing what true unconditional love is, makes it quite hard for them to treat people like they love them. Very sad, in my opinion, for someone to get all the way through their childhood (the time that someone should have cared for and guarded their heart) and much of their adult life, not really comfortable with love. These people often learn to seek approval, in the place of actual love.
Of course, we know that the ability to love is natural to an extent, not just learned. It’s something that God instilled in us from the beginning. But if that ability to love isn’t nurtured, cultivated, and encouraged, it becomes much more minimal. We are born with a God given capacity to love. The feeling of comfort with, and esteem for, another person. Wanting to make them happy. Wanting to see them smile. That intensify’s if we are blessed with children of our own. It’s another time that we learn more about God’s truly unconditional love for us. He tells us we are his children, and then gives us children so that we can understand more about what that love is.
My children could probably tell you lots of ways that I fall short as their mommy. (If I would let them, but I won’t!) But I don’t believe any of them would ever tell you that I don’t love them. My son was leaving to go hunting with my husband once when he was about 7. I was saying goodbye and said “You know I love you right.” His answer meant so much. He said “Yeah, I always know you love me.” Similarly, I remember as a kid saying “I know no matter what, my mom loves me.” Even as a teenager. If nothing else in the world went right, or I felt like no one was on my side, I knew my mother loved me. I’m so grateful to have had that assurance. My mother isn’t perfect. And I did have my rebellious years, during which our relationship really struggled. But I always knew that she loved me and it was a no matter what type of love. Maybe that’s why it’s more natural and so important to me that my children know the same thing. Because that’s what I was taught, and I know how much it meant to me.
Please don’t underestimate your ability, and responsibility, to teach your children love. Yes they have a natural capacity to love, but it’s your job to nurture that. How many young girls do we see get into unhealthy relationships because some jerk is the first person to show them attention or affection? They think that what they are involved in is love. Please help them to learn appropriate love. I know it won’t necessarily mean they won’t end up in a bad relationship or situation. They will still make their own choices. But I believe they have a better chance when they know what love should look like. I’m not saying that we don’t lose our temper, or say things we regret. That’s another post for another time. But please don’t forget to tell them that you love them. At the very least I say “I love you” to my kids every time we say goodbye or goodnight. I think we should strive to tell our children how much we love them. To show them. To teach them to say it and what it means. I’m very grateful when they tell me that they love me. I’m most grateful for God’s love. We couldn’t love had he not taught us, and loved us. I hope that I can at least be a small example of that love for my children. And think about this… There are many things we can’t do for our kids. Things that it might break our hearts that we can’t get for them. But there’s no limit, no matter what your finances are, or what your schedule is, to the amount of love you can give them. And guess what else… it’s something that can never be taken away from them! You can go very wrong by neglecting to show your children love. You can’t however, go wrong by loving them too much!!
Smile through the trials!