I love my five children equally. Some days, I “like” them more or less – depending on a handful of factors. Uh oh. Did I just type that out loud? Sad, but true.
Even so, my vacillating likes should never come across as a shift in my love for them or devotion to their well-being.
Two primary factors drive my like-o-meter any given day:
- Their behavior
- My state of mind
Some days, our kids get sideways with us. They can be disrespectful, moody, or downright rebellious. They make choices that put us at odds with them. We may debate whether this means we “like” them or not – but, the point remains – they can decide their way out of a smooth relational ride. I'm not Mr. Giggles when they're back-talking their mother (or resisting chores...kicking their brother...throwing the TV remote...).
My state of mind
However, they’re not always to blame for my emotional distance. Some days, I’m just not right. I might be angry about something completely unrelated to them. I could be under time pressure and interruptions are unwelcome. Or I just want time with my wife, but I can’t find it amidst the myriad child-related demands. It's almost like I'm looking for a fight.
When it comes to their behavior, there are real issues that can increase relational distance. But a grumpy state of mind is a sorry reason to put an emotional wall between me and my sons. It reveals just how un-like God I am. Can you relate?
God and His people
The Bible talks a lot about God’s relationship to his people, the nation of Israel. And, this side of the cross of grace, we’re included in that group, having been grafted in (Romans 11).
I like how God’s love for His people is framed up in Jeremiah 31:37:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the Lord.”
His devotion to them is fierce and permanent.
Here’s the question I’m left with if I want to be a godly father: do my kids know that my love for them – not my “like” – runs equally as deep? Do they see in me a picture of their heavenly Father that helps them rest securely at night? Do they realize my love for them is not connected to their behavior?
One of the sobering realities (and blessed challenges!) of being a father to boys is that I get to give them their first glimpse of a heavenly Father. I’m the “shadow” but God is the reality. How they relate to me will be a key early factor in how they relate to God.
This doesn’t mean I must be perfect! In fact, when I’m not perfect (= every day), that's a great time to point them to a God who is.
Maybe you've had a rough day (or week, or decade...) with one of your children. Perhaps tonight's the night they need a reminder. You need to tell them that your approval of their behavior may shift, but your love for them never will.