'Father, show me how to love this child'

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Parents long to be able to comfort their children, no matter what their age or point of experience.

Calming a baby in the night has the the same heart-yearning behind it as supporting a teenager with too many pressures. Praying for the safety of a son or daughter in the armed services warrants as much devotion as finding peace about one dealing with a difficult marriage.

Over the decades of parenting, the point of strength for me has been to find an unselfish motivation in loving my children. If my desire for the baby to have a good night's sleep was motivated by my longing to get back to sleep myself, it was likely to be a longer night. Supporting teenagers is not for the purpose of indulging pride in their accomplishments. As much as we want to see our loved ones in the military come home to safety, our prayers cannot be primarily for our own comfort.

The real reason to love and support our children is that this love expresses the love of God. God's love is the source of their individuality, their talents, and the freedom to use them. Striving to love our children in accord with God's love corresponds to the power which the Bible says gives them "dominion ... over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26). And because the love of God is constant, we can be faithful and joyful in our prayer.

It's reassuring to know that the same God who gave His children dominion over all the earth gives parents dominion over concerns about their children.

I remember watching my teenager go off to school one morning, totally defeated by his homework load. He had been up all night and still hadn't completed the work. I had encouraged him to take the morning off to finish it, and he was furious with me for not understanding the pressure he was under.

To make matters worse, there was nothing in the kitchen for his lunch except peanut butter and jelly, which he'd had so many times his tongue was feeling glued to the roof of his mouth. All I could do was offer to make the sandwich for him, and pray the prayer I have prayed so often about the boys: "Father, show me how to love this child."

The strength I always feel from this approach is that it invites an opening of thought, a readiness to listen to what God is doing for all His children. Christ Jesus made the point that God knows our needs before we ask, and actually has already met the need (see Matt. 6:32, 33). The most honest way I can pray for my children is to honor the fact that God has already met their needs, and that all of us can see this and act accordingly.

After much struggle, I found my peace in prayer about my son that day. When he got home in the afternoon, he was happy and relaxed. I asked him what had happened that was special. "Oh, nothing. But I sure did like all the extra butter you put on my sandwich!" It was the tiny but essential reassurance I needed that told me we were connecting in a way that was helpful to him, especially on a day when our communication had seemed so blocked.

Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.... divine Love supplies all good" (pg. 494). Those words encourage me to pray from the standpoint of looking for evidence that the children's needs have been met (instead of wondering whether they ever will be met!) This evidence usually has to do with appreciating more specifically the qualities and talents of the individual child. Even the tiniest signs of unselfishness, usefulness, and resilience tell us there is forward movement in their lives.

And isn't that what we're hoping for? - the confidence that the children are not stuck in thought and action that will ruin their lives.

God is the power that moves thought forward, not only as a basis for the children's progress, but for the parents' freedom to recognize it.

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