After locking myself in the bathroom and quietly weeping, I remembered to pray.
I examined my interactions with my boy. I questioned the situation. What have I done to cause this kind of response? How can I do better? Is this indicative of a hardening heart? What is the issue, exactly, for my son?
I’m not proud of this, but I also felt a surge of anger. How could he say that? Doesn’t he know how much I love him… how much I’ve done for him?
I knew that somewhere in my child’s painful honesty, there was a teachable moment. I just wasn’t sure I could overcome my own pain and pride enough to determine what it was. So I prayed again. I asked the Lord for wisdom and discernment.
* * *
“Son,” I started gently (and no longer barricaded in the bathroom). “Do you love Daddy?”
He looked at me with a deer-in-the-headlights blank gaze. Then he burst into tears. Throwing himself into my arms, he cried, “I don’t know!”
Suddenly, the whole issue was really clear to me. Well, both issues, actually.
“Well, that’s no big deal. After all, you’re eight now.” I said matter-of-factly.
He raised his head, still crying. “So?”
“So… sometimes you want to sit in my lap and other times you want to throw a chair at me… right?”
I don’t think he’s ever looked so relieved! “Yes,” he gasped.
“Well, that’s what it’s like to be eight. Your body’s changing and you’re on your way to being a man. You’re going to have a lot of feelings.”
That’s when we had our really teachable moment. Once my kiddo had calmed down enough to acknowledge that his conflicting feelings didn’t make him evil or abnormal, we got to talk about love.
Love is not a feeling. Feelings can be good indicators of danger and safety. Correctly used, feelings can help us wisely discern the situation at hand. That said, feelings can also be fickle, deceptive and deadly. Given too much head, our feelings can take us off the path into the woods and over a cliff.
Love is a decision. It is something we commit to DO. Love is an action. When Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he didn’t mean that we should harbor lovey-dovey, warm cuddly feelings toward everyone. He didn’t mean we should only do things that will allow the other person to feel lovey-dovey.
No, Jesus said we are to love each other. That’s the kind of love that lays down its life for another. We are to get into the midst of each other’s lives, roll up our sleeves and shovel through the mud together. Regardless of how we feel. Sometimes, true love involves some really unpleasant things.
The Bible tells us that if we don’t love each other, we’re not truly saved.
At this point, my kiddo was really, really quiet. I decided this might be the best time to drive home the stake of this little lesson. Sometimes those eye-of-the-emotional-storm moments are the ones we remember forever.
“One day, you’ll meet a girl. She’ll be beautiful – her hair will be perfect, she’ll be funny and her smile will sparkle. You’ll love her so much, you’ll forget to eat. You’ll walk around with stars in your eyes, little tweeting birds will follow you everywhere and deer will hop all around you.”
Even with my boy giggling in my lap, I could hear my 7 year old chuckling in the library. I invited him in with us. We all sat on the couch together, laughing about the birds that would follow them, tweeting.
“Mom, you know I will never forget to eat.”
“Oh, yes, you will.” I said. “The stars in your eyes will be so bright, and you’ll be so in love, you won’t think about eating! And then you’ll get married.” (More giggles). “You’ll LOOOOVE each other. Life will be soooo good.” I paused for effect. “Then she’ll squeeze the toothpaste tube wrong.”
I nodded gravely. “Yes, yes, she will. Then she won’t make your oatmeal the way Mommy does.”
Gasp! “No, Mom! How could that happen?”
“That’s when you won’t feel like you love her anymore.”
There was silence in my house as that sunk in. The boys had eyes the size of saucers.
“But love isn’t a feeling, is it?” Two moppy little heads shook side to side, ‘no’.
We probably talked for another fifteen minutes about love, marriage and integrity. By the time we were done, everyone was laughing, and my eight year old had declared, “I.L.O.V.E.Y.O.U. Period.” I knew he meant it. If he hadn’t spelled it, I might have worried.
In the end, the teachable moment was found. Had I gone with the first 20 reactions I found in my heart, a great moment to reach both of my boys would have been missed and a wedge would have been firmly placed between us. Had I led with my feelings, I would have committed the same sin I had an opportunity to caution my child against.
We talk about gluttony and self-indulgence when it comes to food, drink and sex. But, I think we commit gluttony with our emotions every day. It’s that gluttony that leads to the destruction of so many relationships. We want a steady diet of great emotions. Instead, we are called to live in the joy of the Lord. All those cuddly, warm, fuzzy feelings are just icing on the cake.
Another day on my knees, and another conversation that could only come about through God’s grace and leading. I feel like I narrowly escaped a trip through the underbrush and a nasty fall.
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.