Love Is Tough
JOHN 15: 9-17
May is Family Month. Last week, we celebrated marriage. Today we celebrate family on Mother's Day. One of our twentieth century prophets lived on a mountain overlooking our church. Erma Bombeck! She wrote:
TO THE FIRSTBORN
I've always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage, the fulfillment of young love, the promise of our infinity.
You sustained us through the hamburger years. The first apartment furnished in early poverty...the 7-inch TV set we paid on for 36 months.
You wore new, had unused grandparents, and had more clothes than a Barbie doll. You were the "original model" for unsure parents trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb, open pins and three-hour naps.
You were the beginning.
TO THE MIDDLE CHILD
I've always loved you best because you drew a dumb spot in the family and it made you stronger for it.
You cried less, had more patience, wore faded and never in your life did anything "first", but it only made you more special.
You are the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn't get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married, and the world wouldn't come to an end if you went to bed with dirty feet.
You were the child of our busy, ambitious years. Without you we would never have survived the job changes, the house we couldn't afford, and the tedium and the routine that is marriage.
You were the continuance.
TO THE BABY
I've always loved you best because endings are generally sad and you are such joy. You readily accepted the milk-stained bibs. The lower bunk. The cracked baseball bat. The baby book, barren but for a recipe for graham cracker pie crust that someone jammed between the pages.
You are the one we held onto so tightly. For you see, you are the link with a past that gives a reason to tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision and give us humor that security, maturity and endurity can't give us.
When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Erie and your children tower over you, you will still be "The Baby".
You were the culmination.
A mother loves each one of her children the best. Let's look at love this morning. Jesus said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love." Keeping commandments is an act. The act is first; you will abide in my love follows.
If there is one thing our culture gets fouled up, it is love. Particularly, parents have a difficult time understanding, defining, and expressing love. We recognize the emotions we call love--warm feelings and affection; but most of us have a difficult time with the tough aspects of love. The problem comes when we confuse love with spoiling and giving in. Love does not spoil children, love does not give in and let them have their own way, "Oh, I give up; go ahead, do what you want; just leave me alone!" And then, confessing, "I just don't know what to do. I want to be tough and hang in there, but, after all, I do love them."
But, love is tough. Love is discipline. Love sets standards and holds to them. When parents get tough, they often feel guilty. Letting a child go to bed without dinner because the child was late or wouldn't eat what was on the table often makes the parents feel guilty. The loving thing to do, they tell themselves, is to see that our child is not hungry. So, they sneak in a little snack; or relent, and let the child eat what and when he/she wants.
But, love is tough. Let me try a principle on you this morning. It fits parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. It fits teachers. It fits Sunday School teachers, youth counselors. Love meets people's needs, not necessarily what they want. Did you hear the difference? Parents, love your children by providing what they need, not necessarily what they want. Wants are often frivolous, greedy, unrealistic, and are rarely satisfied. Satisfy one want, and there are two more wants to replace it
People may want riches; they need fulfillment.
People may want big cars and expensive homes; they need transportation and shelter.
People may want fame; they need recognition.
People may want power; they need support and cooperation.
People may want ease and comfort; they need achievement and work.
Children may want freedom and permissiveness; they need discipline.
Children may want to be waited on; they need to do for themselves.
Children may want to have their own way; they need to cooperate with the family, and contribute to the family, to do their part for the success of the family.
Children may want lots of things; they need to share and give to others.
Children may want to do what they want to do; they need to make choices and experience the consequences of their choices.
Children may want to be pitied and excused; they need to be respected and allowed to fail.
Parents, grandparents, teachers, youth counselors, ask yourself what is your goal for children and youth? What kind of adults do you hope they become? Isn't it something like this: I hope my child becomes responsible, independent, respectful, courteous, successful, feels good about him/herself, loves God and neighbor. You don't desire the opposite, do you? Irresponsible, dependent, discourteous, unsuccessful, poor self-image, not capable of loving God and neighbor. What kind of love are you practicing?
Here is a second principle. The first principle is: love meets needs, not necessarily wants. The second principle: love does not do for a child what a child can do for him/herself: bus their dishes, make their beds, put away their toys, get up in the morning. When children are old enough and capable of performing a task, let them enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Why take that joy from them, and turn them into dependent, helpless whiners?
When parents or grandparents give in, do for children what they can do for themselves, nag at them rather than letting them take responsibility, and protect them from the consequences of their actions, that isn't love, that is weakness. Love is tough. Love allows children the responsibility to choose to go to bed hungry if they don't want to eat what's on the table. Love allows them the freedom not to go to the movie if they choose not to do their chores. Of course, there are times when we lavishly treat them to what they want, like birthdays and Christmas! But, day-to-day, love is a tough action that allows children to take responsibility for their actions, learn how to do things for themselves, do their part for the family's success, and develop positive self-images. Jesus said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love." Action is first. Feelings follow actions.
A mother came to me for counseling. She began by saying, "I know what you're going to tell me, but I need to tell you about my daughter." She then proceeded to describe her daughter who was a grown woman with children, and at least two failed marriages. She couldn't get her life together. She drank. She was constantly in debt. She kept borrowing money from her mother for the rent, for groceries, and never paid it back. And, she was a very demanding, angry, hostile woman, jealous of her siblings, and treated her mother like dirt. The mother said, "I know you're going to tell me the Christian thing to do is to forgive and help her." I said, "No! The Christian thing to do is let her take responsibility for her life, let her suffer the consequences of her bad choices. Let her be hungry. How else is she going to learn how to manage her money? And, why would you keep loaning her money when she doesn't pay you back?" I said, "Who's the irresponsible one here!"
Love is tough. Love does not do for a child what a child can do for him/herself. Love meets needs, not necessarily wants.
Love is also something you can say. It costs you nothing, but you'll be amazed at the results. Husbands, sneak up behind your wife, turn her around; give her a big hug, and say, "I love you." Fathers, hug your children, including the boys, including the boys at any age, hug them and say, "I love you." Some men excuse themselves by saying, "It's hard for me to do because my father never hugged me." So, what's the connection? You know better! Love is an action. Do it; don't rationalize. The feeling follows.
Take time every day to talk to each child, not in a disciplinary way, but just to share. Start young so when they are teenagers, they will enjoy the sharing times'non-confrontational, ending conversations with, "I love you." Enjoy the children. Play with them, laugh with them, include them in family discussions and family recreation.
Love is tough, but the rewards are immeasurable. What a joy when children are responsible, independent, successful, courteous, respectful, feel good about themselves, love God and neighbor. Treat them as you would like them to become. "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love."
© 2001 Douglas I. Norris