I made a decision when I was about age 12 that the safest way to never be hurt by other people was not to love anyone, even in intimate relationships when I became an adult. At such a tender age, I decided that I would never marry anyone whom I could not give up without much pain involved. This life-changing choice derived from being moved for the third time in four years to live with more strangers
It seemed that as soon as I started to love an adult caregiver and trust that they loved me too and would always be there for me, my hopes were dashed and my sister and I were off to a new house. The pain of that last separation was just too much for my young heart, for it convinced me of two things. The first was that loving others is painful, and the second was that I could not be loved.
The pain of learning that love does not always beget love triggered in me a determination not to put my heart in harm’s way. It had already been torn asunder by the abandonment of both parents, so, to be safe, I decided to just do what I was told to prevent punishment, but not out of the desire to please someone I loved.
The turnaround for me came when I adopted my four children and then gave birth to my youngest child. I knew from experience that children must learn that they are loved, if they are to thrive and see their own value and worth.
I could not deny those small humans the sweetness of seeing the light of love in my eyes. I set out to give my children what I had never experienced. I constantly told them that they were loved, special, unique people. I hugged them and kissed them, up until they would not allow it anymore. Thankfully, now that they are grown, I am allowed to hug and kiss again.
I raved about their successes, and I let them know that their failures did not define who or what they were capable of becoming. I gave them chocolate and cards on Valentine’s Day every year, something I did not experience as a child. I used to watch the other children as they brought their chocolate rabbits out to play, and I wanted to snatch one for myself, believing that just obtaining some of that brown gold would mean that I was loved.
Mark 12:31 reminds us to love others as we love ourselves. The problem I see is that so many young people today, like me growing up, are not learning to love themselves. It takes having someone love us, as early as possible, for the ability to feel worthy of someone’s love and to see others as worthy of our love to become a reality in our lives.
Choosing to open my heart and let the love of God flow through me to my children, and then to myself and to others, freed me, saved me, and, ultimately, brought me peace and joy. It opened the doors for me to receive the kind of love that I always dreamed of: a kind and gentle man whose love is durable and whose passion for life is defined my being in the world.
On this Valentine’s day, along with the cards, candy, flowers, dinners, and other tokens of love shared, remember that the greatest gift that we can give to others, especially children, is to tell them that they are loved, special, and priceless. It will cost us nothing, but it will return dividends too numerous to count for those who hear those words and for the people who share this world with them.