Individualism and self-reliance are perhaps the greatest threats to a home filled with sacrificial love. Individualism seeks what is best for the individual rather than the relationship. Self-reliance is a partner to individualism where personal advancement and personal happiness is the goal of relationships. Parents who are resistant or unaware of God’s love will default to individualism and self-reliance as their styles of parenting. Children should never be put in a position to bring happiness into parent’s lives. However, parents will experience great depths of joy as they watch their children respond to the sacrificial love that is extended to them.
Our culture is suspicious of sacrificial love. For many people, sacrificial love evokes a sense of self-annihilation (Martyn 70). Self-annihilation is giving oneself over to another human being. In essence your life, dreams or goals are secondary to that of the other person. The love that I am describing between parent and child is far from the concept of self-annihilation. Sacrificial love or self-denial is a type of love that comes from giving oneself over to God as your father and Lord. Anyone who gives their life to Christ will truly discover themselves (Matthew 10:39). Each person was created to be an expression of love, grace, mercy and justice to the world. Parents who willingly and joyfully love their children at a cost to their own desires, comforts, and personal spaces will find more strength, comfort and compassion flowing into their lives.
Parents who demonstrate sacrificial love to their children actually introduce them to their heavenly father. Sacrificial love is a divine attribute that confirms the reality of something greater than humanity. Each recipient of sacrificial love is left with the question, “What is the source of this type of love?” Parents will have many opportunities to extend sacrificial love toward their children in order to give them a taste of divine or heavenly love. For many children, their personal journey’s of discovering God’s irresistible love begins as a result of their parent’s demonstration of sacrificial love to them.
Jane, a mother of two talks about her need to be creative in the way she expresses love to her children. She has a thirteen year old son and a nine year old daughter.
One day I would somehow hit the target with both children, other days they would not be open to how I showed them affection twenty-four hours earlier. I learned how important it was to spend time with God and be in a loving relationship with Him before I set out to be a parent for the day. My time with God became the catalyst to loving my children. I was not focused on how the children responded to me but how I could love them. If they were unresponsive to my loving acts or expressions I did not take it as a personal failure. I wanted to learn how to love them individually. No longer was I expecting both of them to respond similarly to my expressions of love. God gave me insight on how to love them uniquely, just like He loves me. Some days it was hugs, other days not so much, but just as God responds to us we can learn to respond to our children. I had to be creative in the way I was able to express love to my daughter. I learned to tune into her, as God does with me, gently and lovingly.
In my opinion, today’s child-centered parenting strategies over-emphasize the physical, social, and education needs of children at the expense of spiritual development. I see many parents wearing themselves out by focusing on these cultural values. Parents must draw their strength, love, wisdom, truth, and justice, from God’s word in order to counteract parental values that prioritize personal advancement over spiritual identity and character development.
I am amazed at how adept our culture is at educating children in the values of personal and social advancement. Children can quickly gain an expectation of their parents to buy into these values and all that come with it. Parents must learn to balance these cultural values by intentionally focusing on character and spiritual development of in their children’s lives. Children will benefit from participating in activities that increase physical, social and social development, however, these areas do not prepare children to be mature adults and future parents who love will their spouse and children sacrificially.