Extending God’s Love as a Family
by HEATHER COFER
It was Valentine’s Day, and I had three kiddos ages four and under. I’ve always loved holidays and I wanted to make “heart day” (as my kids call it) special — even if it needed to be simple. And I wanted them to experience the joy of loving others.
Together, we rolled out cookie dough and got to work cutting out heart after heart-shaped cookie. We decorated them with icing and colorful sprinkles (which sounds like a lovely scene, but was rather chaotic). Afterwards, we picked out a bunch of pink carnations from the store and the kids helped me arrange cookies on little plates, putting a flower with each one. We then presented these little arrangements to several single ladies that are our dear friends. As we gave each person their gift the kiddos’ faces shone. They were absolutely thrilled to be loving others in this simple way. (And, they’ve wanted to do it every year since!)
Loving people in intentional ways like this has become a bit more challenging since having children. It takes much more effort to pull out the ingredients and craft supplies when you know you will be interrupted or that little fingers might sneak up and add their own little spin to the project when your back is turned. (I can’t tell you how many cards I’ve written that have been doodled on by a toddler.) Even though it takes more effort to bring about these acts of love, it’s so worth it to allow my children to experience the truth that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
It starts with us.
Elisabeth Elliot said, “Nothing trains and teaches so powerfully as love. Love attracts. It does not coerce. If the aim of parents is to teach their children to love God they must show their love for Him by loving each other and loving the children.”
We all come into this world selfish — we are born with a propensity to think of ourselves first. We don’t want to be inconvenienced by the needs of others. It doesn’t help matters that these are the messages we hear from the world: Do what makes YOU happy. Put yourself first. Don’t let others get in your way.
The pull of self-centeredness is everywhere. But when we see someone demonstrate God’s pattern of loving others first and doing what we would want to be done to us, we begin to catch a glimpse of the better way — God’s way. (See Matthew 7:12.) It is our job as parents to live to this higher law of love just as much as we teach it. Our children need to see the joy of loving others played out before their very own eyes by the people closest to them.
As adults, we are just as prone to selfishness as our children are. It is only by God’s grace that we become more and more willing to love and serve others ahead of ourselves. And He provides the humility and strength we need to give our time, energy, and resources to do so.
This should start with those closest to us and move outward. Our children should see this love demonstrated by our example towards them. When love starts in our home, it can then become an overflow into the lives of those around us and in our community.
I’d like to share some ways we can begin helping our children put love into action. These are simple ways my husband and I have practiced leading our children in extending God’s love as a family. Our efforts may not always be perfectly photo worthy, but they certainly are backed by young hearts that are eager to learn!
Love Your Family
All too often, it is the people closest to us who are the hardest to love. Because of this, my husband and I have learned we need to be very proactive in teaching our children to love one another. We believe that our children need to learn that love goes much further than simply “getting along.” It means being willing to do things that might cause discomfort or sacrifice. Or maybe it’s giving up the last piece of cake or helping their sibling with their daily chore so it goes more quickly. These behaviors do not come naturally and, ultimately, require God’s transformation in their hearts. However, when we present and encourage these kinds of opportunities to love those around us, we are providing space for them to see that God’s way is truly good.
Here are some ideas:
- Have a child surprise another sibling with something they’ve made.
- Encourage them to help a sibling or family member with a task.
- Ask your child to come up with one way they want to show love to their brother or sister. (They sometimes have amazing ideas when prompted.)
- Also, be quick to praise the child when you see them voluntarily going out of their way to show love to a family member. God’s Word is full of praise for those who do right. (See Proverbs 31:10–31; Matthew 10:42; 25:34–40; and Mark 12:42–44; 14:9.) We should follow this example and let them know that we both noticed and appreciated their decision to do so.
Love Your Church
God says that it is the love between Christians that will cause people to know that we are His followers. (See John 13:35.) We should be very proactive in teaching our children to love God’s people.
This can come in all different shapes and forms, but here are a few examples:
- Prepare a meal together for the family who had a new baby.
- Make cards for someone going through a difficult time.
- Invite those who are single, widowed, or don’t have family in the area over to celebrate holidays with your family.
- Ask God to give you wisdom and eyes to see the opportunities to love those in your church family. He will direct us to those who He wants us to intentionally love with our time, energy, and resources.
Love Your Community
It is vitally important that we are also showing love to those who are not believers. Our children need to understand the importance of extending love to those who are not following the Lord. What an incredible opportunity for us to showcase the power of love to our children! Loving those around us with the love of Christ can be a powerful influence to win unbelievers to Him. We get to be His hands and feet to a lost and dying world, and it’s so good for children to see practical examples of this lived out.
Here are a few ideas:
- Bake something yummy for the neighbors.
- Volunteer to help as a family when you hear of a need (moving, yard work, etc.).
- Find an intentional way to serve the homeless or those in need around you (serving hot drinks, giving goodie bags, etc.).
The ways we can serve and love others are limitless. And as we are intentional to seek them out, we will find them. It will likely look different from one family to the next, but God will show us exactly how He desires for us to extend His love to those are within our reach.
Ultimately, loving others is a direct outflow of loving God. As we are faithful to demonstrate what love looks like to our children each day, it will make an eternal impact on them. (See Deuteronomy 6:5–7.) We may not see the result right away, but we can trust that living a life of love before them is planting seeds in their young hearts. And as we do so, a vision is being cast for the incredible joy and privilege of extending the love of Christ to those around us.