I have loved many things in my life that had no personal meaning to me. All because I loved what they loved...because I loved them.
I hear it all the time. I have experienced it. You have too—loving what they love, because you love them. Have you ever seen an adult attending the funeral of a rabbit? Did the adult so love the pet rabbit that he just had to work through his grief in a process of closure? No, the average father would rather have eaten the rabbit (before it got sick), but when his little girl came to love the rabbit, Daddy loved what his sweetheart loved. He had no grief for the dead “hairball,” but he felt the loss his daughter felt, and so could grieve with her. Love is loving what they love.
I have loved many things in my life that had no personal meaning to me. I have loved scribbled drawings, ugly paintings, lopsided newly sewn dresses, burnt cake, flat bread, sour pudding, oversalted cookies, days at the park, trampolines, picnics, hikes, vacations where you slept on the ground, canoe trips in dull, slow moving streams, cheap ice-cream and corn dogs, and on and on. I have laughed at jokes that were funny because the child got the punch line first. I have praised poems that had no meter, and listened to music recitals that made the dog leave home for three days—all because I loved what they loved…because I loved them.
I have listened to my wife talk about things that she read in a magazine article I had already passed up, unknown to her, because I didn’t care…until she cared. Over the years, my wife has gone out to the shop to view my latest invention, something I know she considered a waste of time, but her eyes showed her delight with my delight and she loved what I loved, even though it was a passing vanity. Things pass away. They won’t matter tomorrow or in eternity, but she matters, I matter, and my children matter, now and in eternity. So we love. We love each other. We love what the others love. In fellowship with each other, we love far more than we would ever have loved pursuing our own narrow interests. Life has been more varied and far more interesting for having loved.
Love gives inflated value to things, to places, to moments, to memories. With love attached, the ordinary becomes special, royal, even holy. The greatest pleasure is often found in simple things done together.
Love turns failure into compassion, discouragement into a renewed vision, stupid blunders into wisdom, and sin into redemption. Love covers a multitude of sins. The world can take our possessions, our occupation, our health, and eventually our breath, but it cannot touch our love. Once love is planted in the heart of another, it has eternal life. The treasures of the world will perish, but love given to another, especially to our children, is treasure laid up in heaven.
You keep love by giving it away. The more you give, the more you receive. Love is never fair. It is always lopsided. Love is most beautiful when you plant it in barren soil and see it multiply until it is returned a hundred fold. It must be given when it has not been earned, shared when it is rebuffed, and must persevere when there is no earthly reason—then you can say you have loved.
Children, if not hindered, love many things. Every day, and almost every hour, there is something new and exciting before them—something they have never “seen” before. “Where did it come from? Who made it? How does it work? Can I do it?” We adults have seen everything and have it all figured out—nothing new under the sun—but not so for the kids. Almost everything is new and exciting. I am amazed when my children tell me some of the things they remember of their youth. They were highly impressed with simple things of which I took little notice. They remember a canoe tipping over (in one foot of water). They remember a bug we caught and put in a jar. They remember running out of gas and having to walk to a station. They remember an old man we met, a camping trip and the snake we saw. They remember a book, song, poem. They remember getting to sit on my lap and drive the truck, their first bicycle, the wagon we made, the play-dough they ate, and on and on. Who they are today is a combination of all those experiences. From that reservoir of “love” memories, they formulate how they want to relate to their children.
Don’t get me wrong, this love of which I speak is not sentimentality. It is not touchy-feely emotion. We all know families where the parents are not firm and commanding because they fear that the children will not feel loved or that they will be hurt emotionally if parents impose boundaries on them. They think that fuzzy love will take the place of discipline. They tend to avoid all forms of constraint and chastisement for fear of losing the child’s favor. This is not love, it is weakness and insecurity. Children raised under the banner of permissive love will become unstable emotionally. Love is when you care more about the child’s well-being than about your feelings or your expectations. That means providing a balance of sound teaching, firm boundaries, thorough oversight, chastisement when needed, and full-time fellowship in all their creative activities.
I know love, both for the joy and pain of having loved and having been loved, and for the loss of having failed to do so. Being on both sides of love, and having reviewed the experiences of many others, I am beginning to learn enough to write about it.
I know that as a parent you want to love your children. I know that you do care very much, but we are all very complex beings with many drives and desires. Sometimes we place our own needs before the children. A willing heart without wisdom may not be able to wade through all the conflicting feelings and make the right choices. Life moves too fast; opportunities come and go without giving us time to evaluate the options and to act on principle. Too often, we fail to properly express the love we know we have. Love not shared dies. So I am going to delve into some of the practical aspects of love, some which may point out where you have been failing. It might hurt, but it will hurt only because you value what you have failed to do. Real love will cause you to get up from the spanking and put new feet to your love.
Unthinking parents who obviously have serious problems at home, and have lost their sensitivity to them, will defend themselves, saying, “But, of course I love my children!” They really believe they do, because they think that if they didn’t love their children they would hate them, and, of course, they know they don’t hate their own flesh and blood. They know they “want what is good for their children”, and they are “trying to raise them up right”—so isn’t that love? Between pure love and hate there is a vast middle ground ruled by an enemy more subtle than hate but just as deadly—indifference. Hate is like a barking dog; you cannot ignore it, but indifference is like termites, silently eating away.
Love is loving what they love. Indifference doesn’t pay attention to what they love. A child scribbles on a piece of paper and then interrupts our reading to share her excitement over her artistic creation. Indifference somehow doesn’t notice that she is thrilled. Indifference doesn’t share her love of the moment; indifference just ignores her for matters more important: “Don’t bother me; don’t you see that I am busy. Go to your room and draw, and don’t leave your color crayons on the floor.”
The child is as disappointed as you would be if you invited your wife to come out and see the way you had manicured the yard, and she were to say, “I am busy right now with my book; I am just glad you finally got around to cutting the grass. If you would spend more time working around this place, it wouldn’t look so bad.” You loved the results of your day’s work. You were thrilled with your success. You just wanted to share your excitement with someone you loved. In so doing, you were sharing yourself, but she didn’t care. If she truly loved you, why didn’t she love what you loved? Because of indifference—not to the yard—to you! She failed to see your excitement, failed to care that you were thrilled, failed to see your vulnerability in wanting to share the moment with her. She failed to love. She was indifferent—self-absorbed. Children set aside by indifference are just as hurt as adults, and they are far more easily and often hurt.
I have watched my precious wife spend her life loving what the children loved. You might ask, “But what if my children don’t do anything worth loving?” When there was an empty moment, and dull boredom prevailed, Deb would stir their imaginations with some new project, causing them to love something. She loved it, so they loved it. They loved play-dough—the edible, homemade kind. They loved reading. When some of them didn’t love reading, she never became impatient and critical; she found a way to cause them to love it. When the study of math was a necessity, she did not apply pressure; she found a way to make math fun.
When Deb sat down at the sewing machine to make a dress, she gave the girls material to cut and sew. Some of their first creations were not wearable outside the house, but they were always proud of everything they made. Deb is an excellent seamstress, but she had the wisdom to not hold the girls to a high standard. She didn’t make their sewing experiences tedious. She never found fault with their results, and never made them redo anything. She would use a pattern, but she let them do anything they wanted to do with surplus cloth. In time, they became very good seamstresses and have passed on their love of sewing to others.
While my girls were learning to sew and loving every minute of it, I was aware of friends who were trying to teach their children to sew, but, because of the mother’s anxieties, the girls came to hate sewing. The mother was a good seamstress and expected her daughters to sew well. She made them do everything by the pattern, and to do it right. In their first experiences, they were unable to please, and they found no praise or joy in the effort, so they never wanted to try again. Mother failed to care more about the child’s joy in sewing than she did about the finished product. She didn’t love what they loved. She loved some distant goal of excellence–like hers.
It is OK for an adult to labor without reward or satisfaction for days or even years in anticipation of a distant goal, but, for a child, one day, even one hour, without success and praise is a long time. They cannot, as an adult can, enjoy deferred hope. Every moment must be filled will success, with love, and with peace. Parents must learn to love what their children are, not what you want them to be. Love their efforts today, not their excellence tomorrow. Love them for loving the effort, and they will never tire of trying. Withhold your love and praise as a reward for some future perfect performance, and you will watch them become unhappy perfectionists, maybe even defeatists. Worse yet, they may just shut you out and find their own forms of satisfactory love elsewhere.
Love compels us to provide the best for our children; we want them to excel and to get a good education, because we believe it can improve their lives. We want them to learn to work hard, to be disciplined and honest, to do well in all things, because we believe it is good for them. But love is not the only factor that motivates us to desire their excellence. Our pride, ambition, jealousy, greed, fear, and many other lower human drives cause us to push them to perform.
Mother says, “What do you mean, you don’t know how to spell your name? What will your grandmother say? She could spell every word in the dictionary by the time she was six years old.” Mother feels justified in her irritation and shortness, because she is demanding something that is good for her child, but why does she demand it? Is it really for the child’s sake or for her own vain pride? Do not her words and tone reveal that she has allowed another zeal to displace her love? Does the child feel loved? Would he believe that her demands are motivated by love?
Many parents rush along, demanding clean rooms and finished homework, but take little pleasure in the simple things that delight a child. As we are steering them through the growing responsibilities of life, we must care more about the child’s joy in a thing more than about the thing itself. Many mothers take away a child’s joy of work and play through their need for a perfect product from the child. Many daddies suck the joy of family vacation time by demanding that the child swim correctly or water ski in the right way. When your goal becomes your need for a proper performance or product, then you have stopped loving the child and started loving your own ego. Our goal is not a perfect product; it is to instill in the child a love of learning, of doing, and the joy of creating something with his own hands.
A mother who stays busy maintaining a spotless house, but does not take the time to involve the children in her service, is doing them a disservice and is missing an opportunity to “grow” some love. A daddy who is busy working on his truck, but does not have the time to explain to his son what he is doing and provide an opportunity for him to participate in a meaningful way, is not fellowshipping with his son, is not teaching him to love anything or anyone, is giving him no pleasure, and he is not taking pleasure in his son. A mom who prepares evening meals, but does not daily take the time to encourage her little girl to stir the dough, is missing incredible opportunities to make love and creativity grow and bloom. A dad who is working on the computer finishing the construction of a family web site, but does not have time to sit his little ones on his lap and show them how to draw a face on the screen, has not yet mastered the wonderful thing called love.
After I had worked on writing this article for several days, I was out in the shop working on a very exciting project—a band saw I am building. Several times one of the Russian boys had interrupted me with a request that I cut some boards for him on the large radial arm saw. He came back at different times wanting hinges, screws, a latch, etc. After a while, as I was passing through the wood shop to get a tool, he held up his finished product and said, “Look, Big Papa.” His face showed his delight with his creation. Absorbed in my quest to find the tool, I glanced at the box and said, “Yeah, that’s nice,” and kept on going. When I got around the corner, I still had in my mind the image of his radiant face holding the box, when I suddenly remembered what I had just been writing to you, the readers of this article. I dropped what I was doing and ran back to where he was, hoping to get there before the grin faded and his excitement turned to disappointment. I took the box in my hand and turned it around to examine the no-more-than quarter-inch cracks at the seams, and the one hinge placed right in the middle of the lid, and I bragged on what a fine box he had built. “It will be great for storing dried frogs, snake skins, arrow heads, spent bullets, broken knives, and other treasures accumulated by a twelve-year-old. And if he is anything like my boys, he will still have that box with its artifacts safe within, when he gets married. He will stick it back on a shelf somewhere and discover it when his children are helping him clean out old stuff. He will go through every item and tell his boys the history of them. They will look on in awe at all the ancient relics, and you can be sure they will feel privileged to have a daddy who has traveled so far and done so many exciting things.
When that Russian boy looks at that box ten years from now, will he remember me with pleasure or with disappointment? If I expressed love for what he loved, his love will grow to be more far-reaching. He will share it with his children. But, if I failed to love what he loved, if he felt isolated and unappreciated in the thing he so enjoyed that day, that could be the spirit he would carry with him into his own parenting. Years from now, he would pick up his old box and feel a little sad that no one ever understood him, that no one cared. He would place it back on the shelf... wishing... sadly remembering.
I don’t mean to imply that if I had failed to enjoy his handiwork that one time, his life would have been ruined. Children can absorb a considerable amount of our inconsistencies and not be permanently handicapped. It is the general tenor of our attitudes and the accumulation of all our responses that mold the child’s soul.
There is much more to training a child than loving what he loves, but if that one critical element is missing, virtually nothing else will ever be right. I have few best friends—less than a handful, but those whom I would so designate are people who are interested in what interests me. If I am excited about something, they are too. If I love it, they immediately think it something of value. My best friends are always interested. They are never busy or indifferent. I trust them with my reputation, my money, my family, and personal knowledge of me. They love what I love. They love me. If your child is going to be your best friend when he or she is grown, you must love what they love: when they are three, and when they are thirteen. It is what makes the world go round and makes children come back around and call their parents blessed.