The Only Way to Love our Kids Unconditionally (or anyone, for that Matter)

We all want to believe that we love our kids unconditionally. But do we? Can we?

Growing up, there were pretty much only 3 things my brothers and I were not allowed to be: Gay, fat, or liberal.   I am 2 out of 3. 

In fact, my parents would make fun of fat people.  They would mockingly say “It’s not working” as they passed a large woman jogging down the street, or make jokes about how spandex should not be sold in larger sizes. Fat, of all things, was the most shameful thing a woman could be.  Besides, perhaps, gay or liberal.

As an adult, before I had to remove my parents from my life, getting dressed to see them was painful.  Even though they rarely mentioned my weight anymore, I knew exactly what they think of women who look like me.   I’ve watched them dismiss and demean smart and passionate women because of their body size.   So I would try on every outfit in my closet and suck in my stomach and cry because I already knew that I was not accepted.  All those words they carelessly flung at strangers landed and stuck to me. 

The point of this post is not to rail on my parents.  Because friends, we are all guilty of this. Every one of us.  Maybe not of body shaming, but of failing to love people that we see as different from us. Of making off-hand remarks that fall short of the standard of love.  Our kids see it.  And the scariest tragedy in all of it is that our kids may one day identify as one of the people we have loved so poorly.

Friends, the only way to love our kids unconditionally is to love every person we meet as if they were our child.  

Regardless of their faith or politics, sexuality, lifestyle or health, regardless of their appearance, their income, their choices, their experiences.  Because the person standing before us is always someone’s child, and our kids may one day hear the words we’ve spoken and feel them directed at themselves.   Our kids may see themselves as the people we’ve judged, shamed or condemned.

The only way we can love our kids unconditionally is to love everyone we meet. Period.
And this doesn’t just apply to our kids, does it?  We’ve all sat through conversations in which someone made quick and unfair judgments about someone they didn’t realize we identified with. We’ve all felt unloved or unaccepted by a person who thought they were speaking of someone who wasn’t at the table.  The only answer is to invite everyone to the table and love them as well as we possibly can.

When we speak without love or compassion towards anyone, we send out a declaration that we find people like that downright unlovable.  And friends, our kids are listening.
The only way to love anyone unconditionally is to immerse our words and thoughts in an acute awareness of the deep and intrinsic value of everyone God has made.  Friends, this is hard.

We will fail.  

We will fall short of this. I personally will fall short of this today, tomorrow, and the day after that. We cannot love perfectly because we are a messy, broken, imperfect people. Many of us are still growing up, still raising the broken little boy or girl inside of us who still sometimes thinks they need to step on someone else to lift themselves up, grow indignant in order to prove his or her place in this world. We so easily forget the profundity of the grace we’ve received and fail to show love to those around us.  None of us loves perfectly.

The Good news?  We have a God who has modeled for us a perfect love.  A love that is not based on who we are, but in whom we’ve been made.  A god who does not draw lines in the sand to divide us, but who beckons us to put down all our striving to be more than and better than, who beckons us to come to Him and be accepted.  A God who loves wholly and perfectly from his very being.

We will not love our kids unconditionally.  

Because only God can love like that. But we can try.  And we can call ourselves out and correct ourselves.  We can apologize and start afresh a hundred times a day if need be.  We can sit our kids down and say “what mommy said about so-and-so was wrong.  They are loved by god, exactly as they are.  Loved like you.  Loved like me.”  We can accept God’s love for ourselves and stop trying to earn it and live and love from that truth.

Friends, the only way to love our kids well is to let them watch us love others well. And when we fail, to let them see us try again.  To love everyone we meet as if they were made in the very image of God, because they are.  That, I believe, is how our children will know that we will keep on loving them, no matter what.

The only way to love our kids unconditionally is to love everyone we meet as if they were our own child.   May God help us love like that today.

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