Some friends and I were talking (or texting) recently about a strategy we’ve been trying when one of our kids is having a moment — a meltdown or an attitude or some trouble following the rules. We pull that child into a hug, and we love on him or her.
I’ve been trying this off and on for a while now, and it’s a little bit counterintuitive. I mean, our natural inclination isn’t to lean in and be close when a child is throwing a fit or deliberately disobeying or just totally rebelling. Not that we withhold love from our children. At least, not consciously and on purpose. But I would say that our natural tendency is to pull back a little, harden ourselves a bit, firm up our defenses and steady ourselves for a battle of wills.
But sometimes, when one of my children is having an awful attitude, I will reach out and rub his back or step closer and pull her into a hug or ask him to come sit on my lap and snuggle. Or I’ll lean in emotionally and be intentional about spending more one-on-one time with that child or get a snack she likes or find a way to laugh together. And every time, I see a softening, a change. Maybe not right away, but in time. When I lean in, my child is drawn back in.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that is exactly what my heavenly Father does with me. When I’m hardening my heart or going my own way, when I haven’t gotten my way and I’m building up walls against future disappointment, when I distance myself from Him – He leans in.
He pursues me, leans in close to me, gently comes at me from all directions — verses in a morning devotion, words from a friend, part of a sermon, the lyrics of a song. Word upon word will remind me that my Father loves me, that He has good works laid out for me, that He lavishes mercy upon me, that His plans for me are absolutely beyond my wildest imaginations. God Himself leans in and His Spirit hugs me close and whispers to me that I belong to Him, that He’s never letting go, that I don’t have to be afraid or anxious or worried, that I don’t have to defend against Him because He is always good and He is for me, even when all the world seems against me.
Gradually, my heart softens. And just as my kindness draws my own children back in, His kindness draws me back to His side, back into step with Him.
I love that about my Father. And I want to love my kids the way He loves me.