Parenting has never been easy, I know, but it seems extra challenging these days. This world seems intent on making our babies grow up too fast, and we're constantly pushing back against the messages they're taking in every day. As parents trying to raise children in a way that honors and points to Christ, it's our job to replace those messages with Truth.
They're growing up, and it's happening fast. Before long, they'll leave the safety of our home and venture out into the big, wide world, and these are the things that I want them to know deep, deep down in their hearts when they go.
1. You Are So Very Loved
More than anything, I want my girls to know that they are loved. They are loved by me. They are loved by their dad. They are loved by their grandparents. They are loved by their aunts and uncles. They are loved by their cousins. They are loved by their friends. They are loved by their church family. And, most importantly, they are loved by God.
We all want to be loved (go ahead, cue the old school DC Talk); it's a God-given desire that's hard-wired into our systems. Our need to be seen, to be noticed, to be known, and to be loved is part of our design. God has made us to crave the very thing that he provides in endless supply.
God's love for us is a "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (Sally Lloyd-Jones). He has seen us at our most unlovely, and, here's the kicker, he has loved us anyway. This is a great relief, because it means that his love for us isn't dependent on how good or funny or perfect or pretty or witty we are. It's dependent on his faithfulness. God loves us because he loves us. Period.
I didn't understand that kind of love until I became a parent, but now that I'm a mother, I can't imagine it any other way. With every lunch I pack, ponytail I fix, book I read, and bath I give, I am showing them what faithful love looks like. I love them when they are willfully disobedient and I love them when they behave like angels. Nothing they do could ever make me love them more—or less—than I already do. I love them because I love them. Period.
"For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)
2. Pretty Comes from The Inside
Every little girl, and grown woman for that matter, wants to feel pretty. My girls were barely walking when they began swishing their skirts and playing with my makeup in front of the mirror.
"Do I look pretty, Mama?" is a fairly common question around here. And of course, the answer is always, "YES!" But whenever it arises, I have a follow-up ready: "Where does pretty come from?" They roll their eyes but answer me anyway, "Pretty comes from the inside, Mama." "That's right!" I answer. "Pretty isn't about how you look. It's about who you are."
I say it out loud, and I say it often, because I want them to know the Truth. It's not the dress or the lip gloss that makes them beautiful. It's the joy that makes their eyes sparkle and the kindness that softens their features. It's the confidence that comes from knowing that they're loved and the radiance that exudes from them when they pursue their passions. I could go on and on and on here, but you get the point.
Their beauty stems from the character that God is shaping within them—how they look on any given day has nothing to do with it.
"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight, is very precious." (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV)
3. You Can Do Hard Things
A couple of summers ago, I spent every morning in the shallow end of the pool, trying to help our youngest daughter swim. The struggle was real, y'all. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was quite exasperating. I knew that if she would just let go of her fear, she could master swimming, but she couldn't do it as long as she believed that she couldn't. So I taught her something else to believe instead.
Here's the conversation we had about 6,839 times that summer.
"I can't do it, Mommy! I'm scared!"
"I know you are sweetie. But what else are you?"
"I am brave. I am tough. I am strong."
"That's right, sweet girl. You are. And what can you do?"
"I can do hard things."
"Yes. Yes, you can. I'll be right here beside you."
Before she could swim, she needed to believe both in her ability to do it and in my ability to help her. It took a lot of convincing and reassurance, but she eventually got there. And just so you know, she swims like a fish these days. She even got to compete on our little pool's swim team this summer, and she had a blast. Watching her swim 25 meters basically on her own made me so proud, because I knew exactly how much she had overcome to get there.
Here's the thing. Sometimes the tasks we face can be pretty daunting, even downright scary, but that doesn't mean that we can't do them. It just means that we might need to work a little harder, and maybe ask for some outside assistance, to get it done. The truth is that God sometimes gives us a task that we absolutely cannot accomplish on our own. We can only do it with a little perseverance and a lot of his help, and that's OK. Because when we are weak, he is strong.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)
4. Nobody's Perfect
I feel obligated to go ahead and add "except Jesus" to the end of this one because I know that some of you are thinking it. Hold your horses, though. I'll get there in a minute.
Because perfectionism is one of my biggest struggles, it breaks my heart to see it emerging in our oldest daughter. One word of correction or wrong answer on a test can send that child into a tailspin. I watch her striving and struggling to be the best, and when she inevitably fails (because that's life), devastation follows.
Now, I'm not saying that I don't want my girls to do their best or to work hard. Of course I do! But perfectionism takes a healthy desire to perform well and twists it into an unhealthy obsession with impossibly high standards. It's debilitating and exhausting and a burden that we were never meant to carry.
I want my children to learn how to fail, and to do it with grace. To know that they're not going to be the best at everything. They won't make a 100 on every single test. They will make mistakes. They will mess up. They will not win every game. And that's OK.
Because newsflash. We're human. We have limits. There are things that are simply beyond us. Only when we finally accept that Truth can we lean in to the grace that God gives us for this very reason. God does not expect us, nor does he ask us to be perfect, because he knows that it is beyond our capabilities. He is perfect, so we don't have to be. The sooner we accept it, the better.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)
5. Love is a Choice Worth Making
I don't know what it's like at your house, but in ours, this one is particularly challenging in the playroom, where fights constantly erupt over who gets to choose the game or play with the best Barbie. Selfishness, pride, and hurt feelings are the culprits behind most of our battles, and when they raise their ugly heads, we do our best to replace them with love.
Love doesn't always come naturally, but choosing to love—especially when we don't feel like it, or we think we've been wronged, or the other person doesn't deserve it—is always worth it. Sometimes love is a sacrifice that feels too big to make, but it's our best chance to show the world what Jesus is like. We love each other well so that others may see and know the love of God working in us.
It's important, y'all. We practice loving well at home in the hope that it bleeds over into our outside lives as well. We do this by...
- Sharing our favorite things.
- Choosing kindness instead of lashing out.
- Giving grace and offering forgiveness.
- Using words to build up rather than destroy.
- Generously showing physical affection.
- Spending time together.
- Listening to one another.
- Celebrating victories together.
- Sharing in each other's pain.
- Being good helpers.
These are small things, I know, but all together, they will transform your home into a place of peace, safety, and warmth. We want our home to be a safe haven not just for our girls, but also for anyone who walks through the door. For that to happen, it must be a place where love abounds.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV)
As parents, it's our job to prepare our children for the world out there. We're getting there bit by bit. These five things are the foundation for all the other lessons we'll have to teach them along the way. We'll get to those eventually...for now, this is a good place to start.
Until next time, grace and peace.