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Love Is Tough
May 8, 1994

JOHN 15:9-17

One of our modern prophets, Erma Bombeck, wrote to her children:


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.


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.


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 hair line takes on the shape of Lake Erie and your children tower over you, you will still be "The Baby".

You were the culmination.

Mothers love each of her children the best. Let's look at love this morning. 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. Love does not spoil children, love does not give in and let have them their own way, love does not allow us to be manipulated by children; love is tough.

It's hard for parents to know when to be tough and when to be loving. Notice the problem? We assume that loving is not being tough. We have confused love with spoiling and giving in, "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. But, when parents get tough, then 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 my child is not hungry. So, they sneak in a little snack; or the parent relents, and lets the child eat what and when she/he wants.

When is love tough? Let me try a principle on you this morning. It fits parents. 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. What a child needs is to become responsible, independent, confident, and loving.

People want sympathy; they need empathy.

People want riches; they need fulfillment.

People want big cars and expensive homes; they need transportation and shelter.

People want fame; they need recognition.

People want power; they need support and cooperation.

People want ease and comfort; they need achievement and work.

Children want freedom and permissiveness; they need discipline.

Children want to be waited on; they need to do for themselves.

Children 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 want lots of things; they need to share and give to others.

Children want to do what they want to do; they need to make choices and experience the consequences of their choices.

Children 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 is your ideal? Isn't it something like this: I hope my child is 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, and not capable of loving God or neighbor. Yet, much of what passes for so-called love makes children passive, irresponsible, and dependent. When our boys started working, in that interim period while still living at home before finding a place of their own, we charged them room and board. Why? How else can children learn the value of money and what money will provide? How else can children learn responsibility and independence if we don't give them opportunity?

Yet, what often passes as love causes parents to give in, do for children what they can do for themselves, nag at them rather than letting them take responsibility, protecting them from the consequences of their actions. That isn't love, that is weakness. Love is tough. Love allows them 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. Love meets needs, not necessarily wants. 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, and do their part for the family's success.

Love is not an emotion. Affection is not love. Affection can be a part of loving, but it's not love. The emotions we call love are the rewards for loving. Love is doing. Love is a decision. Love is an action which results in emotion. It rarely works in reverse. Some people wait around until they feel loving, whatever that is. The feeling of love follows the loving act. The loving act is meeting people's needs, not necessarily their wants.

Love is also something you can say. It costs you nothing, but you'll be amazed at the results. Men, 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. Parents, 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--nonconfrontational, just share, and end with "I love you."

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. Love is tough. Love meets needs, not necessarily wants.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris