I’ve got three kids: a five-year-old girl, three-year-old boy, and a one-year-old girl. They are in the sweet spot of life where they crave attention and affection. First thing in the morning or as soon as that front door opens at five o’clock in the afternoon, they flock to me. These moments give me delight and joy, and I know to make the most of them.
I served as a youth pastor for a number of years. During that time I heard a common refrain from teens: “I’m not sure my parents like me anymore or ever did.”
Upon exploring these doubts with students, I discovered that many felt like their parents chased after idols of career, comfort, and cash. Some had divorced parents and felt like those parent fought over who had to take the kids that week rather than who got to take them. These students were filled with pain because they never were filled with affection. Some chased after affection in the wrong places. Others were clearly heading off to the same chase after the same idols of their parents.
Now, giving your kids plentiful affection is no guarantee for their healthy, productive, or carefree life. Neither should that be the aim; that’s actually short changing them of something far better. Heaping affection has a much richer aim. That aim is to prepare them for God’s love.
When we smother our kids with the comforting blanket of love and affection, their hearts are being prepared for receiving God’s love and affection. We’re tilling the soil of their heart to prepare for the implanted Word of God. That’s the chief aim in our affection – to give them the gospel. So here are four ways to fill up your child with affection that leads them to the gospel.
Well, this is a surprising lead, isn’t it? When people think about giving their children affection, they don’t first think about giving them the gospel. But I’ve listed the gospel first because it is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). The grandest affection you may give to your kiddos is the gospel because the gospel is the greatest expression of love that God has given his children (Jn 15:13). So we want to put the gospel first and foremost in front of them.
Without regularly presenting the gospel to our children, regenerate or unregenerate, we are actually despising them, if at minimum, being neglectful of their greatest need. Have you ever thought of that? It’s sobering, right? If the point of our affection is to lead our children to the gospel, then we should lead our affection with the gospel!
So fill your children up with gospel affection by faithfully reminding them that they are sinners (Rom. 3:23), who need a savior to remove their sin and become their righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), and put them in right standing before a holy-loving God (Rom. 3:24).
From birth your life is given to serve your children. The question isn’t whether you will serve them. The question is how will you serve them? What will your attitude be? Will you be gruff, despondent, or grouse? Or will you be cheerful, gentle, and patient? If your pose is the later you will communicate approval, acceptance, and affection. If it’s the former then they will see themselves as an obligation or duty. This falls far short of the precious and amazing gift that they are.
And don’t forget that your attitude determines their attitude. Your response to their behavior will turn their attitude from poor to pleasant. So when it is hard to serve your children because of whining, defiance, or laziness, recall that first aim above.
Christ lived and taught to welcome (Matt. 19:14), protect (Matt. 18:6), and serve children (Matt. 10:42). As Kingdom citizens, the gospel winsomely compels us to do likewise with our little ones. And we adults are called to be like little ones, too. This is grounds for entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3).
This attitude of service and child-likeness are both expressions of affection back to Jesus and towards one another that breathes the gospel into our children. So fill your children with affection through service.
What’s the one word that our children hear most frequently from us? If we’re honest, it is probably “No.” That’s why my wife and I look for every possible way to say, “Yes.” But beyond saying, “Yes” as parents we should strive to affirm positively anything that we can celebrate in our children.
I have younger kids, so I celebrate them putting their shoes on the right feet, putting their dirty dishes in the sink, picking up their rooms, and minding their mommy and daddy. I capitalize on every opportunity to praise my children for getting along and cooperating with one another. Recall Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” When we look for opportunities to affirm our children with words we nourish their souls.
And that soul is being prepared for the gospel through these words of affirmation. Fill your children up with meaningful words of affection.
My children cannot get enough hugs and kisses; your children are exactly the same. If you come from a background where positive touch is not common, I plead with you to make it common. Don’t leave the home without giving hugs and kisses, and don’t tuck them into bed without hugs and kisses either.
Daughters especially need their fill of this, but I gander to say that sons need it too. Sons need to be strong little guys that brush off injuries, but they also need the physical affirmation that says, “Go get ‘em bud!” Whether boy or girl, if they receive physical affirmation from Mom and Dad, then they will be less likely to seek it from others.
Jesus demonstrates physical affirmation in Matthew 19:15: “And he laid his hands on them and went away.” Not only did Jesus welcome children, but also he physically gave the children his blessing, matching his words of affirmation.
One thing I do and encourage other parents to do is to lay hands or hold hands with their children when praying. I rest my hand on my kids’ shoulders or on top of their heads. I’m not trying to be super mystical here. I just know that my children feel comforted by my reassuring hand. It symbolizes my approval, blessing, and union with them.
And I am united with them because I long for them to be in union with Christ. Parents, be sure to give your children their fill of healthy physical affection.
A Famished Thirst
Your children are famished with a thirst for affection. You know what famished creatures do. They go into survival mode and satisfy that thirst in any way possible. Often that comes through violence or hostility. One of the best ways to curb a strong willed, angry, or defiant child is to heap love and affection upon that child. If there is ongoing conflict between the two of you, it could be because there is a dry well of affection.
Filling that well with affection that is gospel oriented prepares your children to have wellsprings of eternal life bursting from them (Jn 4:14; 7:38). Give positive physical touch, speak kind words, serve, and speak the gospel into them. Then you will surely nourish their soul.
Joey Cochran is a graduate of Dallas Seminary and a church planting intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of pastor Joe Thorn. You can follow him at jtcochran.com or@joeycochran.