What is love? Teaching our kids.

What is love and how do we teach it to our kids?
We don’t all start with a healthy concept of love. We often enter relationships with strong feelings and confidence, but we may not truly understand what love looks like and requires. Even when we have excellent examples of love from our parents, from God, and our childhood experiences, we still may not transfer that awareness into marriage or significant relationships.
Robert and Kimberley both share that despite opportunities to know what love looked like growing up, they still entered marriage with few actual skills to develop, maintain, and grow in healthy love with their spouses. Robert said he only started to understand what genuine love was about when the “bottom dropped out” for him and his marriage fell apart. Kimberley questions if she had a genuine grasp on God’s deep love for her or how that could translate to loving anyone else. Sometimes it takes a crossroads or significant event to wake us up and help us realize that we really don’t know how to love well – whether ourselves or another person. Becoming parents and adding kids to the mix makes it even more complex and more important.
How do we teach our kids what love really is, and how to love themselves and others well, when we may be wrestling with that as parents?
Paul Colman, single dad, former teacher, and Grammy-nominated artist joins Robert and Kimberley to talk about this further. Paul answers the question, “If you could go back to your younger self, who was confident you knew what love was, what would you tell yourself after discovering what you know now, years later?” When Paul looks back through his own eyes, what he knew about love was limited and restricted by other voices and ideas in the room like codependency, self-loathing, toxic shame, rejection, and bitterness. Paul was fortunate to have parents and a grandmother that were consistently loving but he still struggled to internalize the message and practice of love during so many competing voices. His concept of love was drowned out by the other voices. The voice of guilt is louder than the voice of acceptance. The voice of shame is louder than the voice saying you’re beautiful. Paul had a big personality, so he often experienced rejection. The message he received was unless he was someone different, he wasn’t worthy of love and acceptance. Until we quiet those other voices down and clear them out of the room, we can’t listen to the voice of love telling us we are loved and beautiful just the way we are.
Bob Dylan talks about how we have so much more to unlearn than to learn. Paul felt like his life was a big house that was pitch black and he had to navigate through it to complete certain tasks, except all the furniture was razor sharp so every time he moved through it, he was terrified. Love is the only thing that can combat that fear and turn on the light in that darkness. The first thing that opened his heart was transparency and humility, allowing other people into that darkness and letting them speak into it and into him. Admitting you need help is scary but it’s the first step to opening yourself up to love, love from God and love from others. That Love switches on the light.
We can’t teach what we don’t know. We may have head knowledge about love but until we have an experiential understanding of love, it will be very difficult to pass that lesson on to our kids. To really experience love, we must get to the end of ourselves and admit our needs. This requires us to pause, to make time to connect with that place inside of us that desperately needs the light to be switched on.
How do we pass along this experience to our kids?
We can only give from our own experience. Paul shares that as he began to accept God’s love for him, bit by bit, he began to be a better conduit of that with his kids. When God reached out to him and showed him how much He loved him, Paul had nowhere else to go. Robert shared that this moment for him came when he became exhausted and when he had exhausted his pretense. He had run out of any ability to prop himself up or figure things out and this led him to surrender. Paul faced a similar moment and ever since he’s been “trending in the right direction”.
Transparency and humility makes the difference
One of the things he’s learned is that transparency makes a huge difference with his kids. Being honest with them brought the light of love into his relationship with them. Any time we open and share our heart with our kids, we allow them to do the same with us. We might have the idea our kids need us to be perfect, but they need us to be real. We don’t have to share adult burdens with them, but we can be honest about how we feel and about how God meets us in difficult places. This shows them what His love looks like and we can let His love shine through us for them too.
When we model this transparency and humility with our kids, we give them permission to be flawed people too. They can feel safe being human and can accept being loved by us and by God. Living out the love of God for us in front of our kids is transformational.
Robert shares that in his first marriage, he never had authenticity. Instead of feeling like he would be accepted and loved for who he was, he started with a sense of needing to perform and fill a role. His inability to feel safe and secure in the love of God made it difficult for him to connect with anyone including his spouse. When we finally accept God’s deep unconditional love for us, apart from any performance, role, or expectation, we can finally receive love and only then can we pass that love on to anyone else.
What about 1 Corinthians 13?
1 Corinthians 13 is the famous chapter on love. It’s a great descriptor of what love looks like, but that fruit only comes from a place of abiding with God, and the continual acceptance of His love for us. When we are filled up with God’s love, we don’t need affirmation or acceptance from others including our kids. Our confidence and security is knowing we are deeply loved by God and that shows our kids what authentic unshakeable love truly is.
In the Western world, we talk about loving others “like Jesus’ but as humans we are unable to love like God unless we are a conduit of His Spirit. Our capacity to love is fully dependent on our connection to God. The more blocked our conduit to God is, the less able we are to love, but when that conduit is open and uncluttered, free of those other voices mentioned earlier, then we become a powerful vessel of love. And, we can deliver God’s love to those around us, especially our kids.
Operating from that place of being full of God’s acceptance and love enables us to be patient, kind, not boastful or proud or rude. We can’t love like God – He is perfect, and we are not – but, if we surrender and open ourselves up to God fully, then we will be able become a conduit of His love for us toward others. And the more we receive from Him, the more we will act out the attributes found in 1 Corinthians 13. We will be “trending in the right direction”.
More is “caught then taught” when we become conduits of God’s love to our kids
As we live from a surrendered heart, attune to God’s love, goodness, and grace toward us, our kids will see God shining through us. They will see someone God loves fully, and they see someone God is working on. That authentic transparency gives them hope. “And”, Paul shares, “I don’t think they really realize how much hope that gives them.” And isn’t that what we want for our kids? We want them to have unshakeable hope in God’s love and acceptance so they can operate from a place of wholeness in Him.
Robert shares that this applies to the idea of grace too. When we understand the grace we’ve been given, even after we’ve seen and experienced some traumatic things, our kids who have experienced the same, will also began to understand that grace. As they watch us continue to receive God’s love and keep that conduit of love open to those who have hurt us or those who have been part of life knocking us around, they discover a richer, deeper love far beyond anything that is humanly possible. They see the love of God at work. So much more is caught then taught when it comes to our kids.
There are a ton of competing voices about love on TV, on YouTube, and on social media, in fact, all around us. Our kids are bombarded with messages of love that are messed up. But we do not need to be passive or feel hopeless. We can pray with confidence that God will show us how to become powerful conduits of His love and to demonstrate that with our kids and to our kids.
When our identity is rooted in God, we experience Love and pass it on
Paul shares from Jeremiah 17:7-8, “Cursed is the person whose trust is in themselves and whose heart turns away from God. They are like a barren tree in the wasteland. They are parched and lonely but blessed is the one whose trust and confidence is in the Lord. They are like a tree planted by the river that sends it roots out, bearing fruit in and out of season.”
We can know that God loves us. We can thank Him that our identity is in Christ as God’s children and that He will shine His love through us to our kids. This confidence is not a Tony Robbins exercise, this is faith. This is belief in something we hope for and confidence in things we can’t see. This faith rearranges our identity and allows us to keep “trending” in God’s love. And when we do that authentically and transparently, with surrender, we teach our kids the depth and reality of His love too.
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