A few weeks ago, I traveled to speak at a marriage conference in Texas. My wife, Christi, who was in the middle of a 14-week stint of all-day sickness from her current pregnancy, was unable to travel with me. So she stayed home with our 18-month-old son, Landon.
He’s at the age now where he misses me when I’m away. And I love it. When I return, whether it’s from a simple workday or a weekend trip, he sometimes greets me with intensity so ferocious that after picking him up, he bites me on the shoulder, still learning how to control his excitement.
Though the emotions of being away from my son are filled with both the angst of missing him while we’re apart, and the joy upon our reuniting, is Landon any less of a son to me relationally while I’m away? Not at all. He’s still my son. I’m still his dad.
However, when I got home from that trip and walked through the door, our relationship was different.
As I turned the corner I saw a little boy just down the hall, squarely looking right at me. As his eyes locked onto mine, he bent over at the waist and knees, ever so slightly, like a bull ready to take charge. As soon as he realized I was standing right before him, he put a smile on his face as wide as he could muster and came charging at me like Fred Flintstone revving his leg-propelled car. As he got closer, I braced myself, picked that little boy up, threw him into the air, and brought him down into my arms squeezing him tightly, experiencing the joy of reunion. As I held him in my arms he reached out and touched my face, as if to say, “Dad, it’s really you; I’ve missed you.”
Though my relationship to Landon was relationally no different while I was away, when I got home—experientially—it was different.
What’s fascinating is that both Scripture and scientific research[i] reveal that our ability to love others is proportionate to how well we “experience” the love of others, particularly God.
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” Does God really love you? No question. Do you truly experience it? That’s the real question.
And how you answer it determines how well you love your spouse, your kids, and even your enemies. We only have a finite amount of love to give others until we’re burned out. More importantly, without “experiencing” the love of another, we never know what it means to give our love to another.
And here’s where it affects our parenting. I believe it’s the posture from which we parent, not the techniques, that matters most in raising our kids.
When Landon was an infant I had the privilege of rocking him to sleep at night. I’d pray over him, for wisdom, strength, courage, and that he’d come to know Jesus at an early age. I also prayed for his wife, and his wife’s family—that we will like them.
But more importantly, I also pictured myself laying in the arms of my Father, because as Landon is 100% dependent upon his mum and me for everything in his life, I’m experiencing that I’m 100% dependent upon my heavenly Father for everything in my life. And in order for Landon to learn that Jesus is the hero of the story, he has to realize that my love for him comes from my experience of the Father’s love for me.
I want Landon to grow up knowing that my relationship with my heavenly Father is experiential. That it’s different. More than mere words.
We live in a society today where many people claim that God loves them. But they don’t act like it by the way they treat others.
Are we giving lip service to how much God loves us, or are we locking eyes with Him, bending our knees before Him, and taking charge, running into His arms, touching His face, and biting His shoulder, because we cannot contain our excitement. Knowing that we love, because He first loved us.
PS. We’re currently working on teaching Landon other ways of expressing his excitement over being loved. This biting thing is for the birds.
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is the President and Co-Founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to build relational connections between generations. As an advocate for parenting in the 21st century, his passion is raising the next generation to love and relate well. Josh speaks and writes on the two key ingredients necessary for building healthy families: intentional parenting and a loving marriage. He is the coauthor of God Attachment and The Quick Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers. Josh wakes up each day striving to love others better, starting with his wife Christi and their son, Landon. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.
[i] The scientific data is found primarily in the area of attachment theory, that the safer we feel, the more we are free to be who we are in relationships. The latest area of study this has been found to be true is in sociological research conducted by Brene Brown. You can read the data in her latest book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.