One Saturday last December we sat in our school’s cafeteria, tightly packed in with other parents, awaiting a performance. After a few minutes, the first grade class filed in and took their places. They were all dressed in red and green, some wearing Santa hats and others in reindeer antlers. It was quite a festive occasion.
In the second row stood my daughter, looking around pensively as her classmates took their places. Parents waved and called out, and their proud little first graders smiled and waved back. My own first grader continued to look around wildly, searching for, but not seeing us. I called and waved, but she didn’t see us. Finally, the music started, the crowd quieted, they all stood at attention and began singing. My girl began singing as well, but tentatively, eyes still searching.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up in my spot, now very visible because the crowd had sat down. Immediately, her eyes locked on mine, she broke out in her lovely smile, and began to sing her heart out. I took my seat again. Throughout the whole performance, she stared straight in my eyes, never breaking my gaze, never losing her grin. It was as if we were the only ones in the school, and her performance was just for me. And she gave it all she had to try and make me proud.
And she did make me proud. Even when it was just a six year old, singing a the top of her lungs for me, my pride in her swelled up until I could not contain it. That was MY girl up there, and the thought brought silly, stinging tears to my eyes. When they finished, I clapped for her until my hands hurt, gave her a big hug, and gushed over her amazing performance.
What struck me was the frightening amount of power I had over her. My little one has a need my approval. She has a need for my love. She needs to know that I love her and find her not only acceptable, but exceptional. She needs to know she is important to me. When I withhold that affection and attention, it wounds her. If I do it often enough, it not only wounds, but changes her fundamentally. Even when she is misbehaving and I have to be the disciplinarian, I must keep this in mind. Discipline, even the swift, stiff kind, must come out of a place of love.
A now famous line from Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help has a maid whispering to the child of her distracted, neglectful employer “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Every little girl needs to hear this, needs to know this. (Every little boy, too.)
And what of the child growing up with a lack of affection? What of that child? In the end, we all seek to be important and significant, even if it is through unhealthy pursuits. As John Steinbeck once wrote “I am certain that underneath their upmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love.” What is the hope for that child?
The hope for that child is the same hope for my own, well-loved daughter. Because although it is true, I love my daughter deeply and carefully, I do not love her perfectly. I fall short as a parent. Like all earthly parents, I have disappointed in the past and will disappoint in the future. My daughter’s hope, like my own, is to seek a love that will forever make her complete, forever make her whole, and never disappoint.
The loving parent we all long for is, of course, God. Unlike all earthly parents, His affections know no limits. We are told that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God. And although I think I feel that way about my children, I cannot live up to it. That fulfillment of unconditional love and affection can only come from God. Are you looking for it? He is the only place to find it. And He loves it when you sing for Him.