What makes people valuable? It’s not what they do, but what they contribute to life, others. Mark Walberg, host of the Antiques Road Show on PBS, wrote a great essay on the similarities of antiques and people. He looks at the nature of what makes antiques valuable and parallels that with people. It’s well worth the 5-10 minutes to read.
I often vacillate between two approaches to parenting: strength and tenderness. Holding both together at the same time is difficult. When I’m only being strong with my kids, strict boundaries and immediate consequences, I often feel that I’m missing them and if I’m giving them too much to bear. On the flip side, when I’m only tender with them, not reacting to their violation but welcoming them into forgiveness without clear consequences, I’m giving them too much power.
At the core, kids are always asking their parents if they are loved and if they can get what their way. Exhibiting only strength tells them that they cannot get their way and that they are not loved. On the other side, Exhibiting only tenderness tells them that they are indeed loved and that they can get their way. Neither of these are very good options (nor is the response, which I won’t delve into much here, that they are not loved and that they can get their way, which is neither strong nor tender) in and of themselves.
Being a good parent requires, among other attributes, a lot of self-sacrifice, patience, and sleep; and ultimately good parenting goes only as far as the parent’s ability to be the adult/grown-up with their kids. Mimicking their child’s behavior in response to the child is telling the child one thing, and one thing only: You are not safe with me. You are not safe because I don’t have the ability to manage my own emotions, and when you need me most (which is often when a child has royally messed up), your emotions are going to erupt and go everywhere. Our kids need us to be the adults, the healthy ones who can manage our emotions and not let ourselves get out of control. This is not to say that emotions need to stay internalized or to not be expressed, but that they be expressed in a way that is constructive, not destructive. I’ve spoken with a lot of parents who get the emotions right, but deliver them in harmful and subtly destructive ways.
Exhibiting both strength and tenderness with kids tells them that they are indeed loved, so much so that it would be unloving to not bring about some sense of consequence due to their actions. Strength and tenderness is when your lap and arms are open for your child to crawl up into after you’ve dolled out some consequence. When our kids know that we’re going to be a safe place for them to return, they are free to be who they were created to be. There is freedom, ultimately the only way of freedom, in boundaries, consequences, and rules.
Recently there has been quite a stir about the Christian sub-culture around the issue of Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. I’ve read a few of blog posts, some twitter posts (including a very prominent Author and Pastor who tweeted “farewell Rob Bell”), and some reviews of the book. While the debate is interesting to watch, I find the practicality of it all a bit obtuse. So in light of that, I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I see love and the ways in which we can love others (This is an article that will be published in April in a local health and wellness magazine).
Love is strong. Love is tender. Love is hard. Love is the nourishment of life. Of all the needs in life, none is more common or more core to us than love. We are all born into this world in dire and desperate need of love. In the early years of life, love was expressed to us through feedings, holding, rocking, and playing. As we grow up, we become more defined in our personalities and in who we are as individuals. And with each step of growth towards being independent, so too our need for the expressions of love we received as kids.
As adults, our need for love is no less than when we were infants. That’s the way we were created. Much research has shown that humans have a need and tendency to attach and connect with other humans: This is the basis of love.
So how do we love? Here are four categories that are broad in scope, but really give us some great insights into practical applications for loving others. “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses.” Proverbs 10:12
First, we can delight in the other. My six year old daughter catches me off guard almost daily. Her creativity and artistic flare show me that there is beauty and glory much beyond what I comprehend in my mind. One of the ways that I delight in her is to give her my full attention. This little act of being fully present for someone will go a long way in communicating to them that you are excited and delighted to be in their presence. Another way that we can delight is through gifts, acts of service, words of encouragement, or touch.
Secondly, showing love comes through being curious. When we ask questions out of curiosity and interest about someone else, it communicates that we want to know more about what it is that they are sharing about. Taking people at face value often creates some undercurrents of mistrust or feelings of being unsafe. We are complicated creatures, and to assume or presume that anyone is as simple as they claim to be is not fully appreciating the complexity of the human race. Sometimes the complexity is comical, and sometimes it’s downright confusing. When you’re confused, ask questions. I saw a bumper sticker the other day which read “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” Curiosity is the fertile ground for stories to be told. And when stories are told, we get the experience of the other person beyond what any data could provide.
In a bit more difficult way, we can show others that we love them by being willing to stand in their way. This is a tricky way because it can often be misused and manipulative. Love is not self-serving, and does not return void. With that in mind, being willing to stand in someone’s way can be the most difficult thing you do, but could change their life. Addictions are running rampant in our culture and there are many friends and family members who are deeply engrossed in a loved ones addictive behavior by enabling. Standing in someones way is the opposite of enabling. Again, this is incredibly difficult to do, especially with adults, but it is paramount that we do this with those we love the most.
Lastly, we show others love by being willing to allow for painful situations to occur. This might be the most difficult to do and understand, but is one of the most rewarding aspects of love that I’ve ever experienced. Again, just as the previous example there is the possibility of this being misused or abused. With that said, consider this: Is it ever ok to burn or cut someone? Before you read on, think about that for a moment. In most situations the answer to that question is no, but not in all situations. But in some situations, it is necessary to burn and cut people for their care. Cancer patients need to be burned in order to kill the cancerous growths in their body, just as someone in need of a heart transplant must be cut open in order to be saved. In the common relationship, the ones that don’t involve chemotherapy and surgery, our unexpressed emotions or feelings can sometimes bring harm other people. We give too much power to silent and unexpressed emotions. What love calls of us is to be willing to do things that might hurt others, which is a very risky and scary thing to consider. But if you tell me a story about someone loving you well, I will tell you the story of how they risked hurting you to love you.
Love is what we all desire. Perhaps there is someone in your life that needs you to be curious about them, to stand in their way, or to delight in them. Consider risking love, because ultimately, love wins.