Jesus concluded His mortal ministry with a new requirement for discipleship: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) Jesus gave this commandment between washing His apostles’ feet and going to the cross to die for them and for us.
With this new commandment, it is no longer enough to love our neighbors “as ourselves” as was commanded anciently. We are now to love the way Jesus loves us—graciously, wholeheartedly, and compassionately. How do we learn to love this way?
One of the best relationships for learning this kind of love may be parenting—where we wash our children’s feet (and hands and faces) repeatedly. And where we very nearly give our lives for our children. There may be no relationship where we dedicate more time and energy for a longer length of time than in parenting. Parenting is a perfect place to learn discipleship, including how to love as Jesus loves.
What detailed instructions has He given for loving in His way?
Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. (D&C 59:5, see also Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27)
We learn essential lessons in loving Him as we love those we are called to serve. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). We show that we love God with all our hearts, might, mind, and strength as we show that same kind of love to others—especially our children.
How do we show this kind of love to our children?
1. We strive to love our children with all our hearts
We have all become irritated with a child who hurt a sibling or a friend. It is common for us to angrily lecture the offending child. The child’s protests and explanations are silenced by parental anger, and the child sags into loneliness and resentment.
Consider a different approach where we strive to love with all our hearts: Imagine that the parent pauses to feel love for both the offending and the injured child. Maybe the parent invites the offending child to help minister to the hurt child. They work together to comfort that child.
When the hurt child is settled, then the parent sits with the offending child. “Maybe you were in a hurry and a little careless? Maybe hurting your brother was an accident? Do you think we can figure out how you can be a better brother?” The point is not to condemn or punish but to open the hearts of your children, helping them learn to be more sensitive to one another. A child who resists may need some quiet time to settle down. Teaching children to be sensitive and kind to each other takes a long time and many loving interactions.
Rather than judge and condemn, we do better to minister to the needs of both children—teaching rather than punishing. This is loving with all our hearts.
2. We strive to love our children with all our might
Might is more than our personal strength. It refers to all the resources we control.* Each of us can and should organize and summon unnumbered resources to help our children.
We may coordinate playdates for a child who needs friends. We may find a mentor for a teen who is exploring career interests. We may arrange for the child to spend time with a caring youth leader or a loving grandparent. We can connect our children with the people and experiences that will help them grow.
These are examples of loving with all our might.
3. We strive to love our children with all our minds
Nephi teaches, “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3).
God customizes His messages to our understanding. It is vital that we do the same for our children. We must be attentive to our children and learn the way each child likes to be loved. Some children love words of affection: “I love to be with you!” “You mean everything to me.” Some children love to hug and be held. That is the way they feel connected to us. Other children only believe our actions. If we promise to play ball with them, they will not take our expressions of love seriously unless we play ball with them.
There are a couple of ways of showing love that may be effective with all children. Children love it when we show compassion—when they see that we are trying to understand their feelings. As Haim Ginott beautifully taught, when someone invests the effort to understand what we are feeling and put it into words, we feel valued. For example, “You must feel very sad to have your friend move away.” “You are disappointed that you don’t get to go out this evening.”
Children also love it when we take time to do things with them that they enjoy. Taking time to think about each child and then customizing our expressions of love to their preferences is a way that we love them with our minds.
4. We strive to love our children with all our strength
When we are actively involved in our children’s lives, we are loving with all our strength.
I remember when our son, Andy, was little and would ask me to take a walk around the block with him. I was often busy reading or organizing. I usually told him that I would gladly take a walk with him as soon as I finished my task. I wanted to be a good dad, but I didn’t want to “waste any time”.
One day when I brushed off Andy’s request with the usual words, “As soon as I finish this.” Andy replied, “Dad, that’s what you always say.”
He was right. He saw through my excuses. We took a walk and I tried not to hurry but to take time to look with Andy at everything he found interesting. Andy is now a dad. I am grateful for every time he invites me to walk around the block with him and his children. What our children need from us will often be inconvenient. It should be no surprise that loving effectively will regularly entail sacrifice. But the sacrifice of our time and personal agendas will build the strength of our relationships with our children.
Jesus set the example of loving children effectively:
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
It is easy to be like Jesus’ disciples—ignoring or being irritated by children and their demands. But Jesus was different. He noticed children. He welcomed them. He “put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). He loved them with His attention and time—with His heart, might, mind, and strength.
Imagine being one of those children held by Jesus. Imagine feeling completely loved, cherished, and accepted. Imagine someone who would never give up on you no matter what mistakes you made. Imagine someone who cheered for you and taught you as you learned. That is the feeling we want to convey to our children.
Many things matter in parenting—our own well-being, showing compassion, wise guidance, and holy purpose. But nothing matters as much as love. Love makes all parenting more effective. Love builds a bond that is stronger than the cords of death.
Urie Bronfenbrenner, the famous psychologist, observed that, “Every child should spend a substantial amount of time with somebody who’s crazy about him or her. There has to be at least one person who has an irrational involvement with that child, someone who thinks that kid is more important than other people’s kids, someone who’s in love with him or her and whom he or she loves in return.” Every child needs to be loved.
Years ago, I read a story about a kindergartner who showed up at school with a note pinned to his jacket. He worked his way around the classroom proudly displaying his note to classmates. Eventually the teacher spotted the note, and asked the boy, “Would you like me to read your note?” The boy stood proudly. “Yes, I would.” The teacher removed the note and read, “Terry was unhappy this morning because his sister had a note and he did not. Now Terry has a note and he is happy.”
That is gracious parenting. It is the kind of care that Jesus offers.
Effective parenting flows from a heart that is gracious, generous, and sensitive—a heart filled with love for God and His children.
In our fallen state, we will make lots of mistakes. King Benjamin’s observation applies to parenting: “The natural [parent] is an enemy to [children]” (See Mosiah 3:19). We will naturally be impatient, angry, inattentive, judgmental, and unkind at times. Yet we can continue to grow toward loving the way Jesus loves. The way we treat our children will be one of the surest measures of our progress in discipleship.
Each time we fall short, we can call on God for a mighty change of heart. We can make plans to be wiser and more sensitive. We can patiently work toward the goal of loving as He loves, knowing that it may take all of mortality and a chunk of the next life to get there.
Picture that day when we will have learned to love with all our hearts, might, mind, and strength. It will be a glorious day! We will be joined with our children in an eternal bond, and our joy will be full.
Ginott, Haim (2003). Between parent and child. New York: Three Rivers Press.
* See Flinders, N. J., & Wangemann, P. (1986). A systematic examination of the terms heart, mind, might, and strength as used in the standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium, Vol. 12 (1), Article 20.
See at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/571e/431e1795d7e827eeb5fd8fb58fc96c8a1a02.pdf