Loving your children: Responsible for our own responses
This month in my Titus 2 blog, I want to turn our attention to the second topic older women are to teach younger women: loving your children. This Greek word for love is the same one used for loving your husband—phileo. Here again is an explanation of phileo: Phileo is the love of the soul. It is rich in emotion and feeling, a generous and affectionate love that seeks to make the other person happy with no expectation for the acts of kindness to be returned. In the Scriptures, this kind of friendship love is used to describe many relationships. God is said to have this kind of love for Jesus and for us. Jesus felt this kind of love for His disciples, parents feel it toward their children and children to their parents. It is not then a shallow love; however, the word is also used to describe a negative shallow love, natural and exclusive and conditional. Because it is soul love, it’s strength and value will depend on the intent and elevation of the soul of the one who bears it toward another.
Read that last sentence again. Let it soak in. The strength and value, or quality, of our phileo love depends on the condition of our own soul. It is not dependent on the condition of the person's soul we are loving. It is not dependent on their words, attitudes, or actions.
This is perhaps the first and most important lesson of parenting (and of any relationship for that matter!). Our love for our children cannot be predicated on our child's/children's actions. We cannot, must not, rest our love for them on their good behavior and blame them for our unloving responses when they are not performing up to standard. We need to take responsibility for our own responses. Our children are not the generators of our love; we are.
If we are not reacting in love, it is a symptom of our own soul. If we find ourselves responding with irritation, frustration, hurry, or anger, rather than kindness, gentleness, and grace, the Spirit of God is trying to reveal a problem in our own hearts that needs cleansing and realignment with His truth. When we react in kind to our children's good behavior/bad behavior patterns, we are responding in the flesh. If their good behavior generates a sweet response on our part and their bad behavior generates an angry response, we are giving performance-based "love," teaching them that our love for them is based on their behavior and that they are responsible for our behavior.
This is probably the most difficult part of parenting: not to base our responses on their actions. This doesn't mean that we don't discipline bad behavior; we are called to that as parents. But our discipline is not based on our frustration with them; rather it is based on truth and grace.
The truth: Disobedience has consequences; we do reap what we sow. Children, and all of us, have to learn that. It is the truth about life and about God. There is right and wrong; there are absolutes; there are laws that God has given us to obey that if violated lead to death. Discipline teaches a child the truth about the fear of the Lord and about the consequences of sin.
Grace: First, we recognize our own propensity to sin and how many times we fail and struggle with the same sin over and over. Our children do, too. A child's most besetting sin is disobedience and disrespect toward his/her parents. That's why God has given the command to obey and respect your parents—that we might know God's way to live, the right way that leads to life, as opposed to our natural, sinful propensities. We can identify with a child's repeated failure in this area because we have our own areas of repeated failures we are seeking to overcome.
Second, we identify with God and model His kind heart that is ever ready to forgive and enfold us in His love. We discipline with grace. We speak compassionately and tenderly, helping them understand what they did wrong and why it was wrong—not because mommy or daddy said so, but because God says so; not so they can stave off parental anger, but because sin leads to death and destroys relationships and their lives. We care too much for them to let them go down that path. We explain our reasons for discipline, that they might gain understanding.
Then thirdly, we pray with them, walking them through the reality that apart from Christ they, like we ourselves, can do nothing. Any act of obedience comes from the Spirit of God within. We seek His help because we need His help. Through prayer we are leading them, teaching them to rely on God not themselves. Through prayer we also lead them and teach them that they need God's forgiveness not just ours. Disobedience is as much or more a matter of their relationship with God than about a relationship with us.
As you learn to love your children with deep affection, not based on their performance, but based on the love God has placed in your heart for them, there will be many times when they will "push your buttons." But what if there were no buttons to push? I think that's what God is after with us. I've often said that parenting is far more about growing up the parents than growing up the children. We mature through the parenting process. God is using them to grow us up, to sanctify our souls. Like James 3 says, God is in the business of transforming our lives so that no matter which way we're knocked about, we only spill out sweet water because that's all we're filled with. When that's the case, there'll be no buttons to push.
So in your own sanctification process, rather than being frustrated with yourself for responding wrong AGAIN, try thanking God for showing you the junk residual in your heart—for bringing it to the surface to make you aware of it so you can confess it and He can skim it off. God is working to eradicate the reactive "buttons" on our souls and to teach us to truly love with a pure heart out of a sincere faith.