Children need to feel love from their parents more than ever before. And, our neighbors need love too. That unconditional, deep and abiding love will help our children weather the storms of life. Love is the truth that fills the soul and gives life hope and meaning. Maybe, during this time of social and political conflict, we can also adopt a deeper view of love for all our neighbors and fellow humans if we allow our hearts to fill with real love.
When I say love, I do not mean intimacy. And, I don’t mean not recognizing mistakes or misbehavior. Real love is a deep investment in a relationship, and a feeling of duty to look at a person’s potential despite their mistakes. Love is patient, kind, and suffers long through misbehavior and abandonment. And love is so much more! I’m not the author of love, but I strive each day to practice more of it as I truly seek to understand and care about the needs of my fellowmen and women.
No Matter What!
Years ago I had a feeling that I should start telling my children, “I love you no matter what,” instead of simply saying, “I love you.” I didn’t want my children to feel pressured to be perfect because I taught parenting. I also knew that more and more children were developing perfectionism mindsets due to some of the social changes in child-rearing. Many children were starting to fear that they would disappoint their parents if they ever made a mistake, and even felt that their parents seemed to think that they were perfect.
I wanted it to be really clear to my children that building perfect children or people wasn’t my goal as a parent. My goal was to make joyful adults who knew what their mission in life was and couldn’t wait to fight for it, and had solid relationships with God and family. I wanted them to be happy and connected to those who loved them most, to know that their life had value and purpose, and that someday they would know what that was.
One day at the end of a phone call consisting of differing opinions with one of my adult children, I said, “I love you no matter what.”
This child got a bit choked up and said, “I know Mom! I have always known. And it really matters right now because life has been rough lately.” The child went on to tell me how my expression of love with no judgement had carried them through many discouraging times and had helped them move forward.
My children know where I stand on every important topic or principle. As they grow, they often question me about where I stand compared to what society might be saying. Then we have open and understanding discussions. We might not always agree on every point. After all, we are all human, and it takes time to do personal research as well as maturity to see all views. But, there is a closeness that our whole family shares that makes my children, and many of their friends, love to come back for visits despite potential growing pains and navigating social messages.
Maybe more than ever in recent history, we need to remember that love has nothing to do with agreeing with each other or having things in common. Maybe love isn’t as much about what we get out of a relationship, but a gift we can give to one. When we love others, we acknowledge the truth of their value as a person and the positive impact they can bring to the world, even if they aren’t perfect.
The story of The Good Samaritan is a story for our day. Two strangers who don’t agree on many of the seemingly big things in life still recognize the truth of the value and contribution of the other person regardless of having anything in common.
This story is hard to duplicate because, as humans, we can easily focus on the details we don’t like about the person, or even the wrong they’ve done, and not see their potential. Why don’t we see the real person? Because we start taking the person’s actions personally instead of investing in the person and the long view of that person’s life.
Our children need us to love them no matter what mistakes they make, and we are usually more than willing to do that. But, can we nurture and love others, too? I hope so. I think that ability to embrace and love another person despite their mistakes or behavior might become the difference between the people who are joyful and still contributing and the people who are sullen and disconnected.
Keep going, keep loving the children and your neighbors. Working to love deeply and have duty to a relationship is the hallmark of true humanity. Without these we can’t have self-government. And without self-government we become nothing better than animals. Samuel Smiles said, “Self-government forms the chief distinction between man and mere animal. There can be no true manhood without it.”
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