This weekend in the 7th and 8th grade environment at my church, we talked about what it means to love and be loved unconditionally. Middle school is a crazy time of shifting dynamics, volatile friendships, drama, and change. We wanted to make certain they understood that they're loved unconditionally by the volunteers, the staff, their parents, and God. In our culture, we often forget about the unconditional love that surrounds us. We're bombarded by messages all day: if you wear these clothes, use this product, talk this way, drive this car, or weigh this much, you'll be accepted. Teens strive to be accepted every day at school. We, as adults, strive to be accepted by our peers, our spouse, our boss. Because acceptance is simply love under a different name. And we all crave to be loved.
This weekend was a reminder to me not only of this need, but also that I'm blessed with people who love me that way and whom I love. My children are loud, messy, energy-sucking, needy little people. But they are also smart, kind, joyful, hysterical, and warm. I love them with all my being and that love is unconditional. I don't love them BECAUSE they get good grades. I don't love them BECAUSE they stand up for other kids. I don't love them BECAUSE I gave birth to them. I don't love them IF they clean their rooms. I don't love them IF they mind their manners. I don't love them IF they talk to their grandparents on the phone. I love them. Period. Not for who or what they are or might do, I just do.
I'm also blessed to be married to my best friend. He's also messy, likes all the wrong music, grunts like an old man in the morning, and can't find a thing in the fridge. But he's also loyal and gentle. He'll sit patiently with our son and play Pokemon or chess. He'll cuddle with our five-pound Chihuahua and change his favorite (really bad) music station because he knows I'd rather hear fingers on a chalkboard. But I don't love him BECAUSE of these things. And I don't love him IF he remembers my birthday or is in a good mood. I just love him. Like crazy.
As parents, we must be mindful of the messages we send our kids. With sports, school, and activities, they're constantly being judged on performance, and we're at the top of the judge's list. We question a bad grade or a missed goal or why they sent 5,000 texts last month. But in parenting them and showing them the right way, we must always remind them that we love them. Period. No strings. No conditions. Because in this world, our most precious need to know they have a safe place.
In the world of writing, the only unconditional love is that of the writer. We love words and writing despite the fact that it's a lonely pursuit that takes place at your kitchen table or in a coffee house surrounded by strangers. We love it even though your chances of having a New York Times Bestseller are lower than winning the lottery. We love it knowing that if we persevere and get published and people like our work, they'll read it, close it, and move on. My book club teases me because I remember all the characters names, the settings, and all the other little details outside the plot of a book. The reason is because I know how much thought went into choosing that character's name or deciding to have the story go in a certain direction. We write for the entertainment of others, but these worlds consume us. They're part of us. Whether to name my protagonist's sister Sarah or Lilah was a deliberate decision.
Over the next week, we celebrate Christmas and Hannukah. As we surround ourselves with family and friends, let us remember (despite the drama) that we love them. And may we always shower our children with our love. Period.