Things to Say to Your Child

“You become what you behold.”

(photo credit: babycenter.com)

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For you, a poignant poem – in the hue of Proverbs 4:23 – for a mother to carry in her pocket and ask her children often. It’s the first motherhood poem that I stored in my memory:

Have you got a Brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so --

And nobody knows, so still it flows,
That any brook is there,
And yet your little draught of life
Is daily drunken there --

Why, look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow,
And the snows come hurrying from the fills,
And the bridges often go --

And later, in August it may be --
When the meadows parching lie,
Beware, lest this little brook of life,
Some burning noon go dry!
- Emily Dickinson
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Things to Say: John 10

Recently, this well-known passage of Scripture took my breath away with its depth of comfort and theology. When I sit by our children’s beds, these are the words I will place snugly in their hearts: the personal and everlasting love of Jesus, and His unity with God the Father.

My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them, and they follow me.

I give them eternal life,

and they will never perish,

and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

My Father, who has given them to me,

is greater than all,

and no one is able to snatch them

out of the Father’s hand.

I and the Father are one.

- John 10: 27-30

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On the days when the little ones sleep, smell sweet, and smile, it’s easy to say.

On the days when they wail, sweat, smell like sour milk, loose their hair, have a break-out of baby acne, and ruin two new outfits with blow-out diapers, it’s not as easy.

But, it’s always true. And can always be said… Those precious words, “You are a delight.”

On the days when the big ones obey, clean up after themselves, and play together joyfully, it’s easy to say.

On the days when they drag around, leave tornadoes behind, and fight like cats and dogs, it’s not as easy.

But it’s always true. And can always be said… Those precious words, “You are a delight.”

I first discovered the power of this phrase in a Sunday School class while we were watching a video taught by a revered Christian counselor. His mustache bobbed up and down as he imitated his angry client – a woman who was going through a nasty divorce. He banged his fist on the podium and quoted her with a screech, “Don’t tell me God loves me! I want a husband who loves me!”  He paused to allow his client’s shocking statement reverberate over the crowd, listening for that collective gasp that would indicate we got his point: this woman was nuts! She had tossed God’s unconditional, miraculous love right out of the window in pursuit of a man’s lousy, temporal love. How foolish! How misdirected! How could she?!

Our Sunday School teacher clicked off the video and asked us “what we would say” if we were that woman’s counselor. For fifteen minutes after the Sunday School sermon, our class offered explanations to this woman’s alleged insanity. The purpose of the assignment was to redirect her from desiring the mortal to the immortal.  One young man mentioned that she could find peace through Paul’s writing about the single-life. “You don’t need a husband who loves you,” he’d comfortingly say, “Just imagine! If your husband divorces you, you’ll be free to serve the Lord without distraction!” Another woman commented about the “heat of the moment,” and perhaps the woman didn’t really mean what she said anyway. I understood the point they were getting at, but this particular question struck a chord in me that I needed to explore. So, I wrestled with the question all day long, and by nightfall, I knew what I would say if she were one of my clients in my counseling office.
First, I would let my unhappy client talk, and cry, and pound the chair if she needed to.

Then, I would mean it when I’d say, “I understand your feelings. I think I would feel the same way if my husband didn’t love me.”

Eventually, I would look at her and say, “You are a delight.” Right then and there, while tears and mascara streamed down her face; while her hand still clenched its fist, and her heart still fluttered in its fit; I’d say it. “You are a delight.”

I’d borrow that unforgettable scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams looks Will Hunting in the eyes and says, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault” over and over again until Will finally breaks down into tears. (Remember the power of their embrace, when they both knowing that Williams had spoken the one truth that Will had been searching for his whole life?) I’d look her in the eyes, and repeat, “You are a delight. You are a delight. You are a delight” over and over again until the truth reached way down deep into her heart and dislodged all of her anger and fear. When she had calmed down, she’d tell me that she wished someone had said those words to her years and years ago.

On one hand, maybe that Sunday School class question impacted me so deeply because so many of us are living just like that angry, unloved wife. We are pounding our fists and raising our voices, with a demanding “LOVE ME!” We release our desperation through workaholism, divorces, affairs, addictions, materialism, legalism, and countless other drugs.
In some way or another, almost everyone lives like this at some point just because we haven’t discovered any other way to feel the one thing we were created to feel: beloved. On the other hand, maybe that Sunday School class impacted me so deeply because it made me think of the day that I had held my dead baby in my arms, which somehow helped me make sense of that unhappy client.

I was 20 weeks pregnant when the ultrasound technician discovered that our daughter had died in utero. That discovery marked the beginning of our journey through the valley of the shadow of death. We cried many tears and learned many wonders as we experienced the stillbirth of our third daughter, Juliette.

When I delivered Juliette, I wasn’t expecting to feel the same bonding that I felt with our other children. I wasn’t expecting to feel that deep love that took root when I held our first two squirmy, crying, nursing daughters. And yet, I did.

She lay so still in the crook of my arm, and my heart gushed with love for her. I was smitten. I looked at her little red body, which needed so much more time to develop, and I loved her. She was not much to look at; for she was not meant to be seen yet, but I felt so pleased about who she was; I am so pleased about how far she had come. I remember feeling torn: wanting the whole world to see our beautiful little girl, yet knowing that they might feel uncomfortable doing so, knowing that this wasn’t the type of little girl people say “ooo” and “ahh” about. No matter. My heart knew she was a wonder. A beauty! A delight.

The mystery is, she did absolutely nothing to win my heart. She did nothing to delight me. She didn’t have to, nor could she. Yet, because God had created her to be inherently loved, she delighted me. I want our living children to know that I love them precisely the same way: when I think of them, I am filled with unconditional, “just because” delight and love.

I want them to know that they delight me.

So, I began to whisper those powerful words into their ears when I tucked them into bed: you are a delight!

I began turning my face towards them and saying it when they’d walk through the room, or snuggle in by my side for a story, or do something simply horrid: you are a delight.

This one sentence is so important for us to speak to our children because, deep inside, they know that it is true and they will trust the person who believes it about them. The friends they make – for better or for worse – are the people who communicate some type of delight about who they are. When they were created, our children’s hearts were crafted with the unspoken knowledge of God’s eternal, delighted heart towards His creatures. They are are longing to connect with other humans who will believe and proclaim that truth for them.

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephania 3:17

I might not always feel delighted about my child – especially in the ugly moments when one of us is whining, rebelling, or throwing a fit – but I aim to overcome my feelings with the truth: that each child is a blessing, a reward, and, most poignantly, a delight. And so I will say it at all times, you are a delight.

 

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