Love requires an object, and love requires expression. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). The world was love’s object, and giving was love’s expression. This love was not half-hearted or reluctant or “almost enough.” It was complete and more than adequate for all of the sins and sinners in this world. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20).
In obeying God’s commands to love, we are to love as He loved. That is unconditional and without reserve or reluctance. We should have and give more love to the person needing love so that his need for love is satisfied. You may think that that is impossible. This person is so starved for love that loving him is like pouring water down a rat hole. You are convinced that you will run out of love before this love-starved person is satiated. That might be true if you are counting on him returning love to meet your needs. But if you get refilled by the Holy Spirit, you are never going to run out.
Now let’s apply this principle to raising children. There are many different problems in raising children that require understanding and applying biblical principles. Here are a few of these problems:
• Lack of obedienceEach of these subjects could fill a book; in fact, books have been written on each of them. You may have read some of them and implemented what you learned, and, with some of you, what you applied did not work. It is easy to draw the conclusion that the book was wrong. The book may have been right, and your application may have been right. What went wrong?
• Lack of effective discipline for disobedience
• Lack of effective training and teaching
• Sibling rivalry and jealousy
• Attention-getting devices such as whining, crying, and tantrums
• Signs of insecurity such as speaking loudly, warts, overweight, scratching, hitting, biting, picking at the body, and hand mannerisms.
Here is the principle mentioned earlier. I will call it saturation love. Saturation love is different from adequate love, quality time, or quantity time. It includes the last two plus undivided attention.
Saturation means that maximum absorption has been reached. A saturated solution is one where the solvent cannot dissolve anymore solute. For example, if you continue to add and stir sugar into a glass of water, the water will eventually become saturated with sugar, meaning no more sugar will dissolve in it. After the solution reaches the saturation point, any additional sugar will fall to the bottom of the glass—the water cannot dissolve anymore.
It is the same with love. It is possible to saturate someone with love so that any additional love is not received. It is not rejected; it is just not needed.
Over the years, I asked audiences for a show of hands if they thought their parents loved them. Over 95% of the hands would go up. It was never 100%, but it was always a high percentage. Then I asked this question of those who had raised their hands: “Do you think that your parents expressed this love to you adequately?” Only half of the hands stayed up. The third question was, “Of those of you who think your parents expressed their love for you adequately, could you have used an even greater expression of love?” All of the hands remained up.
• No loveNo one ever thought he received enough love from his parents. Their children will, if asked, say the same thing about them.
• Some love
• Adequate love
• Even more love is wanted.
What are the consequences of not getting enough love? Disobedience is directly proportional to the shortfall in love. Even if administered correctly, discipline for the disobedience is not effective if the child is not loved enough. He thinks, “The last time I got any attention around here was the last time I got spanked.” Disobedience becomes his means for getting attention. Therefore, your training and teaching is ineffective if you are not giving your child enough love.
The amount of sibling rivalry, competition, selfishness, and jealousy is inversely proportional to the love shown to your children. When all of the kids are saturated with love, there will be little or no rivalry, squabbles, or fights. The more love, the less whining, disobedience, and jealousy, and the less crying and tantrums. Also, the more love, the sooner the child will become a Christian.
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom. 2:14). God’s means of leading us to repentance was to pour on the kindness and show us tolerance and patience even when we were sinners. How much more should we do this for our children!
What are our problems? We do not want to give hugs and attention to a whiner. We do not want to endorse bad behavior. That is true, but doing this is not endorsing bad behavior. It is curing it. This giving is not giving in to the child’s dictations, but to his real need. His perception is more true than your perception. The “whiner” is asking for attention—loving attention. We will give a small baby attention when it cries. There may be nothing wrong; he is not hungry, wet, dirty, or sick; he just wants some loving. When the child is two or three or nine or ten and asks for attention, we do not want to give it. We do not think the child needs it. Believe me, if he asks for it, he needs it. When he is saturated, he will quit asking. (On the other hand, there are some children who need attention but will not demand it. They need and receive even less than the demander. Because they are not demanding, you may think they are satisfied.)
Our problem is that we run out of “give” before the child runs out of demand. We think he will never quit demanding our attention, so we quit giving it before we should quit. If we kept on giving the attention, we would find our child would get satisfied. The child will get full, and consequently he will be very secure and ask for very little in the years to come. This security is of central importance in your child’s obedience to you.
Many years ago, there was a little boy who had warts on his left hand and arm. I think there were eighteen of them. He had had them for many months.
One day his father asked him, “Johnny would you like me to pray to God to take away your warts?”
Johnny replied, “No, they are my friends; I play with them.”
His father knew that these warts were evidence of the boy’s insecurity and that the insecurity was the result of the father himself not giving his son enough loving attention. The father made a decision and followed through with much loving attention. The warts disappeared in a very short time.
Many years ago, I was close to a young family who had four preschool boys ages one, two, three, and four. One day the parents came to see me about their oldest son. He had two major problems that they did not seem able to correct. 1) He was hitting each of his little brothers all day long. He was corrected on each occurrence, either shouted at, spanked, or both. 2) He had picked the skin off of his face in many places so that he had small red scabs all over his face. He looked like he had the measles.
The spankings did not seem to work. Their question was obvious: “What do we do?”
My answer was as follows: “The next time he hits a little brother, pick him up and hug him.”
The mother answered, “I don’t want to reinforce that kind of conduct.”
“Don’t worry. He already has gotten the message that it is wrong. Not only should you hug him the next time he hits his brother, I want you to hug him all day long. He hasn’t gotten enough love since the second son was born, and now there are number three and number four. The only time he gets attention is when he is bad. So he hits little brothers in order to get attention. He picks his face because he is insecure. I guarantee that if you pour loving attention on him with overkill, his face will clear up, and he will quit hitting his little brothers within two weeks.”
She said, “I don’t think I can do that.”
“I don’t even like him anymore.”
The parents confessed their sin and put this into effect. The predicted results came true.
Another time, a father with a very active 12-year-old son came to me for help. The son had had extensive discipline for misbehaving on small things and did not seem to have learned from the discipline. He also had a difficult time getting along with his peers. The parents were giving him a fair amount of love, attention, and time, but he still would not receive correction or be repentant when spanked repeatedly.
I told the father that he could not pour on too much love. In desperation to see improvement, the father poured on the physical affection and reduced the constant verbal correction of minor things. The father then took the boy to a men’s retreat where he held the son in his arms for the two-hour van ride there and back, plus holding the son during the speaking sessions. Upon their return home, the mother immediately recognized a change in the boy’s attitude and his willingness to receive correction without pouting, as well as his desire to get along better with other children.
In years of asking questions and listening to answers, there is one answer that stands out. “I never heard my father admit that he was wrong about anything. In the meantime, Mom knew he was wrong; we kids knew he was wrong; God knew he was wrong, and he himself knew it, but he would not admit it.” This may be true of some of you fathers whose children are grown and gone. You may be reading this and realize that you did not practice saturation love when they were growing up. In the meantime, they have had all kinds of problems. Others of you have children who are teenagers, not away from home, but not little “lovable” kids.
What can you do about it now? First confess to God all of your wrong actions such as over-discipline, put-downs, ridicule, ignoring, yelling, anger, favoritism, lack of expressed love, etc. After this, you can write to each of your children expressing to them what you have confessed to God. Tell them you have confessed your actions and attitudes to God. You can also admit specific things that you remember. Ask the children to bring to your attention things that they are still hurting about, just as you may still be hurting about how your father treated you. When they tell you, do not be defensive; just be sorry with a godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Then express love to them in many ways. If your children are still with you, do the same, except it should be in person in addition to the letter. The letter is important because 1) you can get it all said without interruptions, 2) the letter will get read many times, and 3) the letter will be kept.
Remember, both sexes of children need much love from both sexes of parents. If you are divorced, saturation love is more difficult, but still necessary. If you are competing for the love and loyalty of your children by putting down your former spouse or by buying your children’s love, it is counterproductive. Not only is it less than saturation love, it is not love at all.
One of the best ways to express love to your children is by not fighting with your spouse. Fights between the parents is a major cause of insecurity in children. If you do disagree, the children should never hear it. If you already have a history of fighting or disagreeing with your spouse in front of the children, confess your history to God, then to your spouse and your children, and then forsake the fighting.