By Cynthia Carrier
“Good night, sweet dreams, I love you!”
These have been our closing words at tuck-in time for a while now. I remember them from my own childhood and never meant to carry on that tradition, but somehow, after being said a few times, the mantra stuck.
It has occurred to me, though, that no matter how important it is to say the words, “I love you,” it’s even more important to live them. We’d all agree that that’s true—but when it comes down to it, how well do we live out the love of God? Not our understanding of love, but the unconditional and selfless love that Jesus modeled for us.
In Jesus’ own words, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). I don’t think He was just referring to His own physical death, but also to the way He “lay down his life” on a daily basis—giving up what He wanted and, instead, doing what was needed for those He loved. He gave up sleep, food, career, family relationships, and more, all to show us the way to eternal life and abundant life.
When I compare that standard to what I evidence to my children on a consistent basis, it’s easy to see how often I fall short of God’s ideal in living out a life of love. As I recall one mother writing (and unfortunately, I don’t remember the source), “Being a mother showed me how selfish I truly was.” How true! So often, we’d rather do what’s convenient for us, instead of what’s best for our children and family. We pursue our own agendas and schedules instead of prayerfully following along with God’s plans. We talk of love, but in the next breath we’re responding harshly to a child’s repeated questions.
If we want to raise spiritually fit kids who love the Lord as we do, we’ve got to know the love of God and share it with our children. We do this best by showing them physical affection, sharing words of affirmation, performing acts of service, sometimes giving them small gifts or treats, and spending quality time with them. (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell do a fine job of describing all of these facets of love in The Five Love Languages of Children.) Aside from modeling this value as the best method of teaching it to our children, there are some other practical things we should address in order to provide them with a solid foundation in Christlike character.
Though children may receive our love and be able to express love to others, they may have difficulty grasping the concept of “loving God,” since they cannot see or touch him. It is important, then, that in addition to all the other aspects of “love,” we help our children understand how we love God.
Ultimately, our love for God is expressed by our obedience to his Word. Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21; see also John 14:15). Therefore, it’s important for us to spend time in the Word so that we know what it is God wants us to do. This may include personal reading, listening to Bible teachings, participating in a Bible study, or reading Bible-based books. However, there is no substitute for simply reading the Bible.
It is important, also, that we pray. We can both speak to God and hear from Him in the quietness of prayer. We are admonished to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). A constant thought-life of prayer keeps us focused on the Lord, makes us more aware of his presence, and draws us closer to him. Isn’t that what a love relationship is all about?
By encouraging the habits of Bible-reading and prayer (and obedience to the Word) in our children and guiding them in an understanding of how these actions express their love for God, we are laying the foundation for their lifetime love relationship with the Lord.
Love is just one of the many values that God values—one of the many character traits that He wants to grow in us as we follow Christ. As parents, it’s our job to show this love and encourage our children to express it as well. Though that may seem obvious, it’s important to remember that love isn’t just something that we “do”—it’s a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22). While we do need to do our part in expressing love, we can’t live the love of God without allowing Him to work in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, as you teach your children to read and obey the Word and pray, make sure you’re praying—it’s one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God… And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:10-11a and 18).
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