A friend and I were having lunch and he was sharing with me about the pain and frustration he felt of not being able to feel close to his father. He had reached out so many times to his dad and never felt loved and fully accepted. He was now a man…deeply hurt and wounded, and even nursing some anger toward his father for pain he had inflicted not on his body, but on his soul.
He told me, “Rick, I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I will never receive approval from my Dad. I’ll die never knowing that he was proud of me or that he loved me unconditionally”.
I asked my friend about his father’s relationship with his father. He told me that his grandfather had abandoned his father and he hadn’t seen him since he was a boy. My heart went out to both my friend and his father. While we are not to be victims of our past I have great mercy for those that have never received the blessing of unconditional love from a father. It leaves a mark on you.
Just going to church will not repair this breach of intimacy. This family was faithful to church and even held positions of leadership. The father was a man of integrity and loved his family – but he didn’t know how (or feared) to communicate it to his son.
I say this not from a sense of condemnation at all, but from pity and sadness. I believe the story above is not isolated, but repeated over and over. It’s tragic. Someone has to break this downward and destructive spiral that will continue on in the lives of their children and grandchildren if not faced and overcome.
One of the foundational responsibilities of a parent is that they do not give their children cause to be angry. All of the other parental duties we have will be futile if our children are not listening to us. And we aren’t open to instruction from those with whom we are angry.
The Bible says, “…ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath…” (Ephesians 6:4). Angry parents only reproduce themselves in their children as they grow to be parents themselves. And the love deficit continues.
One way children become frustrated and angry (even as they grow into adulthood) is because of the absence of expressions of love from their parents. I fully understand that people are very different and that includes the way they communicate love. Personality, temperament and experiences influence the way you let people know you care for them.
However, there are some people that have a difficult time sharing any feelings, words, or physical expressions of love, including with their children. The most important people in the world that need to know they are loved is our family.
Some think that providing food, shelter, and clothing is the way they show their love and that is adequate. That is true, for sure. The best test of love is our actions (I John 3:16-18). But the Bible also teaches that our words are important in communicating love. I didn’t always reciprocate (especially in my teen years), but I savored every “I love you” and affectionate hug from my Mom and Dad.
When children aren’t sure they are loved, they are insecure. Soon, they begin to seek other ways to find security and acceptance. I believe one of the best ways to prevent your children from having the wrong type of friends is to make sure they know that you love them. If not, they will find a group that does accept them, most often to their detriment.
Fathers seem to have a more difficult time with this than their wives. I think it’s from a culture that emphasizes that “real men” are tough and don’t communicate their feelings. That’s a lie though and it has destructive consequences in the lives of your children.
No one was more manly than Christ. Have you ever noticed that most of the pictures that have been painted of Christ at best show Him as pale and sickly and at worst effeminate and weak. Jesus grew up as a carpenter and builder working with his hands. He was the definition of masculinity – in fact, the most masculine Person that has ever lived. He survived being scourged and tortured by professional executors, carried the heavy weight of His cross, and endured the incredible physical pain of being crucified for six hours.
Yet, the Lord was a compassionate, tender, affectionate person. He wept for people. No one that was around Him ever wondered if He cared for them. In fact, He was like a magnet to people, unless they were threatened (the religious leaders of the day feared losing their positions of influence to Him).
How does a child grow up in a home bereft of any love being expressed besides meals and rides to ball practices and recitals? If someone grew up in an environment absent of verbal or physical affection they sometimes have difficulty communicating it – or receiving it. There may not have been physical abuse, but unconditional love not being communicated in the family harmed them emotionally. They grow up feeling awkward… trying to give something they never received.
One book that I would highly recommend to you for ideas and encouragement in this area is “The Blessing” by Gary Smalley and John Trent. Even if you were raised in a very accepting and warm family, this is a helpful book. (I beg you to read it for the sake of your children and grandchildren – and even your friends).
The writers correlate the blessing that parents in the Old Testament gave to their children and draw five distinct and practical aspects of it. Each of these are transferable principles that we can do the same for our children. Here they are.
Appropriate meaningful touch. Love expressed non-verbally is sometimes more powerful than words. What we say can be stilted and mechanical if we aren’t appropriately physically affectionate.
When my grandfather died unexpectedly it was the worst day of my life. My father was out of town and my Mom was helping my grandmother with her grief. As a thirteen year old boy I sat in a chair in shock and wept. Suddenly a family friend, Mack Smith, a man like my second father, walked in the door and came over beside me. He never said a word, but put his strong hand on my shoulder. It comforted me and I knew he loved me. I will always remember it because I desperately needed that at that moment.
Spoken message. This includes written words as well. Kids shouldn’t have to guess how their parents feel about them. Saying “I love you” should be given in excess rather than being a rarity.
I tell my kids that I love them regularly and have also done so in writing. I have written hundreds of pages to my children about how much they mean to me, lessons I want them to learn, summaries of vacations we took, people that have influenced my life and other areas. As valuable as the content of what I have written to them is the fact that one day when I am gone and they read the sheer volume of it they will know that I loved them very, very much.
Communicating high value. The child knows they are very precious and special to you by your unconditional love. This is shown through affirmation and encouragement. While discipline and correction are important, the blessing involves positive words of value and examples of how and why you treasure them.
Picture of a special future. These are words not only of affirmation, but of the belief that they are important to God and He will use them.
One of my favorite stories about this is when Dr. John R. Rice met a young man named Billy one day. This godly man simply placed his hand on his head, smiled and looked at him and said, “Billy, I believe that God is going to use you in a great way one day”. The young boy remembered those words of a special future and it touched him. Young Billy was the great W.A. Criswell, who at one time pastored the largest church in the world. The type of words we use are important to our children.
Commitment to them through difficult times. Someone said, “Adversity sifts friendships”. It also is an opportunity for you to prove your love. I have walked through some tough times with my kids – not because I had to, but because I loved them. I have often said I would rather be a good father than a good preacher. That is expressed to them in times when they have disappointed me, but I haven’t rejected them.
I learned to parent from my parents, especially from my father. When he raised me he was just raising a boy, but he was also training me to parent though neither of us knew that.
My Dad had a stroke in the fall of 2001 and it affected his speech. It was a labor for him to speak and his vocabulary was limited to a couple of dozen words. Sometimes I would call the house and Dad would answer the phone. It was not always an easy conversation for both of us. He was trying so hard to speak and I to understand him. Sometimes he gave up trying. It was painful.
One day I called and asked for Mom, “Dad, is Mom there?”
A clipped reply, “No, she’s gone”.
“Will you tell her that I called?”
“Ok, Dad. You doing OK?”
“I love you Dad”. In his presence he would ordinarily nod when I said that to acknowledge it. One of the things I missed the most after his stroke was hearing him say, “I love you”. He said it to us so often. So, after I would tell him I loved him on the phone he would just hang up the phone; he just couldn’t frame the words.
However, on that one day I was surprised and thrilled when he said, “I love you, too”. It was so clear it was as if the stroke had never touched his speech. I was so grateful God allowed me to hear that one more time.
My father has been gone from us for over five years as I write this. I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to communicate that we had a perfect family because we didn’t. But this is absolutely true. My Dad gave his children the blessing I wrote about above in each of those five areas. He didn’t call it a blessing because he had never read the book or heard the teaching. But he did so on a regular basis.
At Dad’s funeral I said that it was difficult sometimes to have him for a father because so many others looked to him as a father-role and I had to share him. He only had three physical children, but he had dozens and dozens of others because Dad blessed them, too. And we all felt loved by him.
Now it’s my turn to do the same for my children and grandchildren. Five of my seven children are adults and I still try to bless them regularly . I want them to know that they were loved so very much even as I felt loved my my father.
May God help us to bless our families today. They need it desperately – and we are training them to parent their children one day, for good or for bad.