Last year, a man with a couple of kids moved in with the woman in the green house up the street. The kids, who introduced themselves as Chance and Hailey, had been living with their dad and a couple of older half-brothers until their dad met Sandy. They told us their dad was going to marry her, and they started calling her mom. They had never had a mom before so they tossed the word around their lips like something sacred.
But we could hear the yelling down the street. We saw Chance and Hailey standing on the sidewalk while words that should never be spoken were shouted into the air. They sneaked into our yard and hung around the apple tree and asked us what we were having for lunch. Sometimes, when I asked if they had already eaten at their house, Chance would shrug and say, “We’re not allowed to go home ‘cause Mom—our mom—is cleanin’.”
One day, Hailey came running up to me, tears streaming down her face. She had a bright red spot on her knee. “I need a Band-aid!” she wailed. It wasn’t a terrible scrape, for all her carrying on, but it was bleeding, and the blood was getting all over her clothes.
“I can get you a Band-aid,” I said, “but I think it’s better if you go home so you can get cleaned up.”
“I already went home!” Hailey bawled. “My mom told me I couldn’t come in because I’d get blood on the carpet!”
I stared in disbelief at the green house up the street. I had already known the children were not a priority, but to hear it like that hurt. I hurt for the children, but also hurt for Sandy. I guess I understood, a little. I wished I didn’t, but my heart is deep and full of shadows and I know something of selfishness.
Like her, I have traded my joy for my children for the tyranny of the moment. I have been angry when muddy feet tramped all over my freshly-mopped floor. I have been too busy making dinner to be bothered with one more scraped knee. I have gotten my children dressed for church while yelling at them because we’re late.
I know the cost of mixed-up priorities, and it weighs on my heart. I want more for my children than that. I want more for me than that.
But it is so easy, when my toes are in the dirt and my hands busy about the stuff of earth, to forget that this is not my kingdom. It is easy to forget that almost everything I do here doesn’t really matter at all, at least, not the way I think it does. When I am dead and gone my kids will not care if the living room was tidy or not, nor will they remember most of the things that I did. What they will remember is if they were loved.
Love must always be my priority. It is the thing that outlasts all my doings. It is not the capstone on my list of achievements; it is the cornerstone. If I do not have love, nothing I do matters, and I am no better than the woman in the green house up the street who worries more about her carpet than the heart of her child.
Love must permeate everything I do in my home, and my priority must be this: to wake up every day with the intention to live out my faith through love in front of my children.
This does not mean that the to-do list doesn’t get done. It means that love drives the to-do list. Love determines what is the best thing to be done. Love keeps my eyes on eternity and asks the hard questions about what my children really need.
It is the simplest and hardest thing. Love can’t fit into a box and be checked off. It can’t be measured the way stacks of folded laundry can. This priority requires me to seek wisdom, to understand the unique needs of my children, and to give up a false perfectionism.
Some moments, the best way to love my children might be doing the laundry. Other times, it might mean listening, correcting destructive behaviors, giving them time to recharge, or grabbing them in a great big hug.
Always, it means pressing in to the Author of Love because I cannot give what I do not have. I must hold fast to the truth that God’s plan for me is better than any plan or purpose I have for myself. The children He has entrusted to me are a gift, not a duty, and I will have no greater honor in this life than if my children can say they knew the love of God because of how I loved them. That is more important than an immaculate kitchen or being on time for soccer practice because that is the stuff of eternity.
And nothing impacts eternity more than love.
For further thought
1) 1 Corinthians 13 is a famous chapter on love. What does it have to say about works done without love?
2) If you are like me, reading through the attributes of love can be like reading through a list of failures. I obviously, continuously, and outrageously mess up love. Which aspect of love is hardest for you?
3) Read 1 John 4:7-11. What is the source of all love? What are your actions toward your children saying about what you believe about God?
4) My prayer for you today comes from Philippians 1:9-11: “I pray that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Join us on Monday for Day 4: Sacrifice.