She was grabbing dirty laundry from her son’s room when she saw it, scrawled over and over at the bottom of a piece of notebook paper: “I hate Mom. I hate Mom. I hate Mom. . .” Sitting on the side of his bed, she wondered, “Is this what I get for trying to be a good parent?” For a moment, she stayed there, attempting to combine this evidence of contempt with her understanding of the situation. He was mad because he was grounded, a consequence he’d incurred for not doing his homework, and he felt justified in retaliating with unreasonable and disproportionate vitriol. She knew this scribal outburst was part of the irrational fury of adolescence, of rampant hormones, of selfish inexperience, of, well—sin. She took a deep breath, gathered up the smelly clothes and moved on. Never mind the stab wound; just keep loving, just keep loving. . .
When a child puts his arms around your neck and rests his head on your shoulder, or when your preschooler interrupts his Christmas program to wave and yell, “Hi Mom!” you feel loved, trusted and needed —important, even. And this love is gratifyingly public, a splendid reward for the exhausting hours you’ve spent feeding, bathing, reading and putting to bed; for the tracks you’ve made in the carpet at night as you walked a sick kid, for toilet training, for homework checking, for doctor trips and school obligations. Child rearing is an overwhelming job, so expressions of love feel good when they come. Unfortunately, this sacrifice doesn’t always receive a timely reward.
The mature and proper response to every situation—love— rarely reaps warm fuzzy dividends, and exercising tough love often gets us kicked in the teeth. There is a great temptation to give up and go away when love isn’t returned, and in abusive situations, it is the best thing to do. But, apart from dangerous cases, how do we deal with unreturned love? While I’m definitely not an expert on the subject, I have lived long enough to learn a few things, and those mostly through failure.
Love is an unnatural, determined response initiated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is an acquired skill, honed by listening to and depending on Him. I rarely, and I mean, rarely get it totally right; portraying perfect love is impossible for us humans. But, and this is a big “but,” it is possible to improve. And that is what we are commanded to do: we are enjoined to “put on love,” to “walk in love,” to “abound and increase in love.”
Love is a gateway to a new kind of life; enlarging our hearts, expanding our vision, and enriching others. The process may not be painless, but it is encouraging: it is evidence that we are becoming more like Christ.
“Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved childrenand live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”
Ephesians 5: 1-2