Kids today thirst for parental acceptance — they long for their mother and father to reinforce their worth.
Meeting your child's need for affirmation doesn't have to be difficult. One way is to do what I call "the blessing." This blessing has five distinct elements to build up your sons and daughters and help them understand their worth in your family and before God. Those elements are appropriate and meaningful touch; words of love and acceptance; value placed on the child; acknowledgement of a special future; and genuine commitment.
Although there are five elements to this blessing, each child is unique and will interpret those five elements differently. Age is also an important factor in how a child receives a blessing. As your child grows, he or she may require a different type of affirmation. Part of showing children your approval and their value is figuring out how to affirm them in a way they can understand.
Would you like to change the lives of your children? If so, be a part of The Blessing Challenge — that's one million parents choosing to change the lives of children, one child at a time, by taking a simple, yet powerful first step: writing down and reading a blessing to their children.
There are times in our lives when being able to see a clear path is crucial. That was certainly true on a rainy August day a number of years ago, when two young adventurers decided to scale Mount Dom, the highest summit wholly within Switzerland at 14,942 feet.
Even though these American tourists were young and inexperienced mountaineers, they felt confident that they could make their climb with ease. After all, their first-day goal was only to go halfway up the mountain to the "high hut," which was staffed that time of year by the Swiss Alpine Club.
Despite a late start and deteriorating weather conditions, they set out enthusiastically, moving up the forested trail toward the halfway house. Because they hadn't planned on being out all night, they hadn't bothered to bring any cold-weather gear. They soon regretted that fact when the clouds started spitting drops and then a steady rain began to fall. What's more, as they climbed higher and crossed the timberline, the temperature fell dramatically.
By that evening, when the cold rain began to turn into snow, they were still climbing. They had long since crossed the timberline, and the trail before them had become increasingly difficult to follow. When darkness had fallen, they both began to realize they weren't just lost — they were in life-threatening trouble. They were soaked, shivering and at risk of hypothermia, and darkness was swallowing the path.
Just when their situation was most desperate, a tiny light began to flicker. Even at a distance, the glow looked as bright as a lighthouse beacon to those two shivering, frightened young men.
Before retiring for the night, the keeper of the high hut had decided to step outside and place a kerosene lamp next to the door — just in case a beacon might be needed by anyone caught in the worsening storm. That light drew the boys out of the life-threatening cold and darkness and into a place of warmth and safety.
That story provides a context for the importance of a clear path in times of increasing darkness — like these times in which we live. If we are serious about helping our children move toward warmth and light and love, we need to light their footsteps on just such a positive path. The blessing is the best way I know to provide such a light.
But what exactly does it mean to give a blessing? What actions and attitudes combine to make this biblical tool so uniquely effective?
The blessing as described in Scripture always included five elements:
Let's take a quick look at each of these.
Meaningful touch was an essential element in bestowing the blessing in Old Testament homes. So it was with Isaac when he went to bless his son. We read in Genesis 27:26 that Isaac said, "Come near now and kiss me, my son." This incident was not an isolated one. Each time the blessing was given in the Scriptures, a meaningful touch provided a caring background to the words that would be spoken. Kissing, hugging or the laying on of hands were all a part of bestowing the blessing.
Meaningful touch has many beneficial effects. The act of touch is key in communicating warmth, personal acceptance, affirmation, even physical health. For any person who wishes to bless a child, touch is an integral part of that blessing.
The second element of the blessing involves a spoken message — one that is actually put into words. In many homes today such words of love and acceptance are seldom received. Parents in these homes assume that simply being present communicates the blessing — a tragic misconception. A blessing fulfills its purpose only when it is actually verbalized — spoken in person, written down or preferably both.
For a child in search of the blessing, silence communicates mostly confusion. Children who are left to fill in the blanks when it comes to what their parents think about them will often fail the test when it comes to feeling valuable and secure. Spoken or written words at least give the child an indication that he or she is worthy of some attention. I learned this lesson on the football field.
When I began playing football in high school, one particular coach thought I was filled with raw talent (emphasis on raw!). He was constantly chewing me out, and he even took extra time after practice to point out mistakes I was making.
After I missed an important block in practice one day (a frequent occurrence), this coach stood one inch from my face mask and chewed me out six ways from Sunday. When he finally finished, he had me go over to the sidelines with the other players who were not a part of the scrimmage.
Standing next to me was a third-string player who rarely got into the game. I can remember leaning over to him and saying, "Boy, I wish he would get off my case."
"Don't say that," my teammate replied. "At least he's talking to you. If he ever stops talking to you, that means he's given up on you."
Many adults we see in counseling interpret their parents' silence in exactly that same way. They feel as though they were third-string children to their parents. Their parents may have provided a roof over their heads (or even a Porsche to drive), but without actual words of blessing, they were left unsure of how much they were valued and accepted.
Abraham spoke his blessing to his son Isaac. Isaac spoke a blessing to his son Jacob. Jacob gave a verbal blessing to each of his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. When God blessed us with the gift of his Son, it was his Word that "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). God has always been a God of words.
"But I don't yell at my children or cut them down like some parents," some may say. Unfortunately, the lack of negative words will not necessarily translate into a verbal blessing.
To see the blessing bloom and grow in the life of a child, we need to verbalize our message. Good intentions aside, good words — spoken, written and preferably both — are necessary to communicate genuine acceptance.
Meaningful touch and a spoken (or written) message — these first two elements lead up to the content of the words themselves. To convey the blessing, the words must attach high value to the person being blessed.
In blessing Jacob (thinking it was Esau), Isaac said, "Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed. ... Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you" (Gen. 27:27, 29).
That pictures a very valuable person! Not just anybody merits having nations bow down to him! And while we might think that calling a person a field would be criticizing him, that is not the case. A blessed field was one where there was tremendous growth and life and reward. Just ask a farm kid what a record crop, all ready to harvest, means to his or her parents. That's the picture Isaac gives his son.
As you may have noticed, Isaac uses a word picture (the field) to describe how valuable his son is to him. Word pictures are a powerful way of communicating acceptance. In the Old Testament they were a key to communicating to a child a message of high value — the third element of the family blessing.
A fourth element of the blessing is the way it pictures a special future for the person being blessed. Isaac said to his son Jacob, "May God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth. ... Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you" (Gen. 27:28–29).
Even today, Jewish homes are noted for picturing a special future for their children. One story I heard illustrates this activity very well.
Sidel, a young Jewish mother, was proudly walking down the street, pushing a stroller with her infant twins. As she rounded the corner, she saw her neighbor, Sarah. "My, what beautiful children," Sarah cooed. "What are their names?" Pointing to each child, Sidel replied, "This is Bennie, the doctor, and Reuben, the lawyer."
This woman believed her children had great potential and a special future before them. Isaac believed the same about his son and communicated that in his blessing — as we should communicate to those we seek to bless.
One distinction should be made between Isaac's blessing and the act of picturing a special future for a person today. Because of Isaac's unique position as a patriarch (God's appointed leader and a father of the nation of Israel), his words to Jacob carried with them the weight of biblical prophecy. We today cannot predict another person's future with such biblical accuracy. But we can help those we are blessing see a future that is full of light and opportunity. We can let them know we believe they can build an outstanding life and future with the strengths and abilities God has given them.
Our Lord himself speaks quite eloquently about our future in the Bible. In fact, he goes to great lengths to assure us of our present relationship with him and of the ocean full of blessings in store for us as his children.
We need to picture just such a special future for our children if we are serious about giving them our blessing. With this fourth element of the blessing, a child can gain a sense of security in the present and grow in confidence to serve God and others in the future.
The last element of the blessing concerns the responsibility that goes with giving the blessing. For the patriarchs, not only their words but God himself stood behind the blessing they bestowed on their children. Several times God spoke directly through the angel of the Lord to the patriarchs confirming his active commitment to their family line.
Parents today, in particular, need to rely on the Lord to give them the strength and staying power to confirm their children's blessing by expressing such an active commitment. They, too, have God's Word through the Scriptures as a guide, plus the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Why is active commitment so important when it comes to bestowing the blessing? Words alone cannot communicate the blessing; they need to be backed with a willingness to do everything possible to help the one blessed be successful. We can tell a child, "You have the talent to be a very good pianist." But if we neglect to provide a piano for that child to practice on, our lack of commitment has undermined our message.
When it comes to spending time together or helping develop a certain skill, some children hear, "Wait until the weekend." Then it becomes, "Wait until another weekend" so many times that they no longer believe the words of blessing.
The fifth element of the blessing, an active commitment, is crucial to communicating the blessing in our homes.
That's a brief overview of the five elements of the blessing that can become a life-changing part of how we do family. Provide the five basic ingredients of the blessing — meaningful touch, a spoken (or written) message, attaching high value to the one being blessed, picturing a special future for him or her, and confirming the blessing by an active commitment — and personal acceptance can thrive in a home.
Take your first step of the blessing challenge by first writing out a formal blessing for your child and then sharing it with him or her.
Both the spoken word and the written word are important in giving the blessing. For several reasons, however, we are suggesting that you put your words of blessing into written form first, before you share them out loud with your child.
First of all, ideally, your written blessing will also be spoken — we will include ideas for doing that below. But writing your words out first can take away a lot of pressure. You have the opportunity to put the words together at your leisure. You can double-check that you have included all the elements of the blessing and that your words convey exactly what you want. And if your words have been chosen ahead of time, when you do speak your blessing, you can concentrate on connecting with your child.
Another reason to write out your blessing, though, is that a written blessing can be saved. The words can be read and reread, and the paper it is written on can be tucked away as a keepsake. Written blessings can also be sent by letter or e-mail and thus cover great distances. A written blessing has the capacity to bring warmth and light and love to your child again and again throughout his or her life — far beyond the mere ink marks on paper.
Keep in mind that there is no wrong way to craft a blessing, and there are lots of creative right ways. And whether it comes out all at once in a rush of words or takes you a few tries and several evenings to outline and polish what you want to say, your child will cherish both what you write and what it represents about your relationship.
How you actually do the writing depends on what you are comfortable with. Some people work best in pencil on a yellow legal pad. Others can't even think without a word processor. You could even talk into a voice recorder and then transcribe your words.
And what should you say? Your words can be plain or poetic. They just need to carry with them a picture of your blessing that can help your child know that he or she is of high value to you.
Once you have written your words of blessing, we encourage you to talk with your spouse (if you're married) and pick a special time and place to share these words with your child. If at all possible, do it face-to-face. Pick a meaningful time, place or event — a family affair with lots of friends and relatives, a milestone celebration such as a birth or graduation, or a quiet dinner with just the two of you. Just make sure that it is at a time and place that allows you to be quiet long enough to read or recite the blessing you have written to your son or daughter.
Don't forget to include the element of meaningful, appropriate touch along with your blessing — a hand on the head, an arm around the shoulder and hopefully a big hug. You might even want to snap a picture of the two of you together or give the child a keepsake copy of your blessing done in a special font, calligraphy or just your best handwriting.
What if you can't be physically present — if you are deployed overseas, for instance, or divorced and living across the country? If you will be together soon, why not write out your blessing now and wait until you are together to deliver it? But don't wait too long. You can always write out your blessing in your best handwriting or format it on the computer and put it in the mail. You could even do a video of your blessing and e-mail it to your child or do the whole thing via Skype.
Keep in mind that there is no wrong way of giving a child your blessing. Even if you choose to do a special dinner and burn the hamburgers, if it rains on the one night you have counted on a starlit sky, if the dog decides to throw up just before the special event or the camera batteries fail, it doesn't really matter. If you will write down your words and make your plans, I believe you will find that God just works it out!
The fact that your child receives your blessing is far more important than any challenges you face in delivering it. It is your blessing, prepared just for him or her. And however you choose to deliver it, make sure your child has a copy of your written words.
Before you actually get to work on your written blessing, there are a few more things I would urge you to keep in mind. First, don't assume your children will automatically know your heart or "just figure out" what you think about them. How you choose to bless a child is not nearly as important as making that choice — being intentional about the blessing.
But don't stop there.
The kind of planned, formal blessing we have described can be wonderful and life-changing, but if you really want your child to thrive, you will not only give the blessing but also live it, seeking out ways to include meaningful touch, spoken and written words, messages of high value and a special future, and evidence of active commitment in every day you spend together, every moment.
At the breakfast table and over bedtime prayers, some parents memorize a little blessing to say or sing to their children at these moments.
In the car on the way to school (that can be the perfect time for an offhand conversation with a teen).
While on the soccer field, in the movie theater, at church, at the park or in the backyard, look for ways to inject little words of blessing in everyday conversation.
Make it a habit, and the blessings will flow through your life.