Age & Stage
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
—1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Children are constantly being fed messages about what love is or is not through experiences, relationships, media, and entertainment. Is love all about what you receive, or is it about what you give, or is it both?
Love is complicated, as mom or dad, you get to model and teach this foundational momentum of relationships. I will never forget the moment I held my son and felt love toward him in the hospital for the first time. It was exhilarating! Fast forward to his moments of crying, tantrums, and going to the bathroom next to the toilet instead of in the toilet. In these moments, I got to practice the deeper places of love. When we feel unable to love — or in moments of pure human imperfection — our responses, guidance, and affection display whether we truly know how to be loving.
I John 4:12 says, “No has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
I still remember when my son and I drove to his first day of middle school. I said, “Alex, I want you to be a noticer today. Middle school is not an easy place for most kids. Find someone sitting by themselves at lunch and sit with them.”
That afternoon, when I picked him up from school, he said, with abounding excitement, “Dad, I was a noticer today! I sat down with so and so. He was sitting by himself. My friends were confused about what I was doing but followed me to the table where so-and-so was sitting.” We talked about being a steadfast noticer, consistently sitting with him, and noticing him now.
Several years later, the young man’s mom came to my wife and me to tell us what a positive impact Alex’s multiple decisions to be a loving noticer that year had on her son. We shared that it was just as meaningful for our son. Being loving toward others, when done genuinely, has the power to transform us from the inside out and to create a life-giving momentum in others. It is truly as if it allows for the Holy Spirit to move and transform.
When children practice patience, they practice love. Help them see the vast array of opportunities to practice this piece of love at home and with their peers. For most, patience does not come naturally, yet God tells us to love each other as He has loved us (John 15:12). This character quality requires refining and practice. Media tends to train our children to seek immediate and self-gratification.
This one generally comes naturally to us as parents. Most of us would die for our children, but do children learn the beauty of sacrifice for others? Expose them to moments of giving of themselves sacrificially for another. As a family, you can look for stories, movies, or short videos with this message and discuss them. And remind them of what God has sacrificed out of His love for us (John 3:16).
Similar to the previous one, selflessness requires giving for the benefit of another. Jesus is our model: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Help your children learn the loving act of generosity with their time, words, and actions. Encourage them to look for examples of selfishness and selflessness in entertainment. Have discussions regarding the selfishness that is encouraged through marketing.
When people are most unlovable, we have the opportunity to practice actually being a loving person. For followers of Jesus, the Word is clear: we are chosen, holy, and beloved ones encouraged to live with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, we are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. (Colossians 3:12-14)
A few months ago, my daughter’s friends accused her of being too nice. If your kids are accused of something, let it be that! This part of love can be connecting and freeing. Celebrate with your children when you see these expressions of love in their behaviors — their character is being shaped into a loving one!
The word “humility” comes from the word “humus.” Humus helps plants have deep roots for healthy growth. Similarly, humility will help your child grow in maturity and ability to love others well. Genuinely serving and lifting others up is a behavior that displays loving perceptions, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. A humble mind displays mature love, and mature love is not thirsty for approval and affirmation.
According to Ephesians 4:1-2, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which (we) have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Humility helps your child see that others can shine too and is not threatened by others’ success. They also learn that they can freely give love away rather than trying to consume others’ love through a prideful approach to relationships and life.
One of the most challenging things a person learns to do is to control themselves effectively. While self-discipline may not always be easy, God designed us with restraint in our nature. According to 2 Timothy 1:7, God has given us a spirit of power, love, and self-control.
Controlling self-centered urges and desires early in a child’s life helps them make better decisions. Interestingly, exposure to screens early in life stunts growth in this part of a child’s brain. In fact, researchers have affirmed that early exposure to screens is a predictor of a lack of self-control later in that child’s life. To be loving, your children learn to say “no” to themselves.
Love does not flourish with selfishness, apathy, or pridefulness — prominent cultural messages, especially in media. It is not easy and is not about getting something or someone. Love takes courage, work, and grit. Teaching your kids the more difficult parts of love early in life is a worthy investment that will pay incredible dividends throughout their lives. The romanticized version of love is fun but incomplete. It misses the beauty and transformative power of God’s design and intent for love. His love begins with an abiding relationship with Him and flows freely and sacrificially from there.
©2024 Focus on the Family.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
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