“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love my children,” I once confessed as a young married with no children to a gathering of veteran moms.
As you might expect, my statement was answered with gasps and wide-eyed stares; “How could you ever say such a thing?!” their faces replied.
I stumbled to explain.
“Well, it’s just that, I’ve been hurt so deeply by my father, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to love my children the way that God asks of a mother to love.”
My concern wafted above them and burst apart upon touching the ceiling, settling upon the conversation like white noise.
“Listen,” one loving mother and grandmother affirmed, “once that baby is in your arms, you will feel nothing but love for that baby. You’ll see!” she said, finalizing her conviction with a wink.
I left that encounter frustrated and lonely and certain there was something terribly, terribly wrong with me. How could I ever say such a thing?!
Shortly after the birth of my daughter a few years later, I walked through the halls at church and the same grandmother asked me, “See?! You had no problems loving her, did you?”
“Nope,” I replied, but muttered under my breath, “anyone can love a newborn.” Will I be able to love her once she’s developed into her person, and will I, then, be able to let her into my heart?
In Bold Love by Dr. Dan B. Allender, he writes: “Often the one who delights in evil is an ordinary, unassuming person who hides behind a facade of normalcy” (233).
This describes my upbringing.
On the surface, our family seemed normal. We were faithful, active church members and goers. We were involved in church life in, and out of, the church. We were involved in outside organizations, like soccer and band. The children were polite, well-behaved, and laughed often in public.
At home behind closed doors, fear ruled our hearts, namely through the volatile acts of my father. Tears were plentiful and joy sparse. Arguments governed most talk, and unconditional love suffocated under threats of divorce, blatant selfishness, and perverse intention.
Oh, it’s very clear to me what Jesus means when he says, “You, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children” (Matt. 7.11).
It’s that state of ambiguity: getting things one needs or wants (new soccer cleats, family vacations on the lake) and, yet, flinching at submissive, bludgeoning rants when a word or action is out of step.
Scripture is pretty clear in John’s words, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Notice there is no caveat to that command.
It does not include the clause, “except in the case of extreme annoyance,” or “excluding moments when you are extremely exhausted, stressed, PMS-ing, over-worked, under paid, defrauded, lied to, or generally disappointed with one another,” or “unless he sexually violates you.”
It’s not there. I’ve looked.
I know the evil in my own heart.
Family gatherings, holidays, and any of the above exclusions “bump my cup,” as my girlfriend says, splashing vile venom that is remnant from my evil nature, concealing itself as righteousness; when, in fact, it’s nothing more than arrogance and self-righteousness.
Love, it is not.
Typically, I allow my arrogance and self-righteous attitudes to harden my heart toward others under a hyper-vigilant need to protect it from further harm.
My papa never let me in. He hurt me, abused me, kept me at arms’ length.
And, like a good girl, I learned his ways well.
The truth about loving one another is that it’s hard. It’s unnatural. And it’s complicated when we fail to confess with our mouths the sinful nature still taking up residence in our hearts.
The truth about loving one another is that it’s impossible to love one another–especially those who are difficult to love–when we falter at prostrating our lives and hearts before the One who makes love a possibility.
The truth about loving one another is that when we’ve been abused, love may take shape within our relationships in manners atypical to what our culture approves as normal or to what our experience has been.
The truth about loving one another is that when empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can love completely, consistently, and genuinely.
The truth about loving one another is that it’s healthy, has boundaries, requires forgiveness, and encourages reconciliation, whenever possible. And love can be taught.
I posses the capability to commit evil; however, I have been made into a new creation who has been hard-wired to choose love, even though it has not been set as my default setting.
No, by listening to the Holy Spirit and close accountability partners, I have to manually override my settings to love one another, seeking biblical and healthy ways to express that divine love.
As for my father, I choose to love him through the gift of excommunication until there is repentance for his sin against himself and against me. It’s a gift of love to feel the shame and loneliness, which, prayerfully, will lead to repentance before that final judgment day.
As for my daughter and my two sons, yes, I love them. I love them dearly, tenderly, and passionately. There is frequent laughter in our home.
I’m not a perfect mama, so I have taken great, great comfort that Paul wrote to Titus, urging the older women to train and teach and encourage the younger women to love their husbands and to love their children.
Why include the instruction unless there is a need to be taught to love the very ones it’s assumed we should love so easily, so automatically?
The truth about loving one another is we don’t do it enough.
Today, I’m accepting the dare to override my default setting and choose to love one another, starting with my husband and my children. ‘Cause, like a good girl, I want to learn to love Titus-two style. 😉
What’s your next step?
While reading this article, who has the Lord brought to mind that you need to love more intentionally, in His strength? In what areas of your heart do you need to expose to the Lord for healing in order for you to be more loving?