Whenever our girls do something that hurts someone else, we tell them to apologize. Sometimes, those apologies come through gritted teeth. Even though my daughters might be saying the words, you can tell in their hearts that they don't really mean it. Their true heart comes through in their actions. It's really easy to say words we don't mean. Sometimes we say things because it's simply easier to agree or apologize than it is to create conflict. Sometimes, we think we mean the words, but we never get around to following through with our actions. Sometimes we say what we don't mean out of anger or frustration.
My oldest daughter had the word hypocritical as a spelling word last week. Before she could master it on her test, she had to know what it meant. We talked about how being hypocritical means that you say one thing and do another. God doesn't want us to be hypocritical. He wants our actions to reflect Him. 1 John 3:18 says "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."
It's easy to let words come out of our mouths. It's much harder to follow those words with actions. Yet, our actions usually show the state of our hearts much better than our words. God calls us to love each other with actions. It's easy to say that we love our family and our friends, but if we walk away from those relationships at the first sign of trouble, then our actions say more about love than our words. It's easy to say that we love the poor and the orphaned, but if we're not doing anything to help those people, then our actions show how we really feel.
We want our kids to know that love is about more than hearts and words. Love requires action. Love means we set aside some of our own wants and needs to see to the wants and needs of others. Love requires sacrifice. It means putting other people in front of yourself. This is a tough concept for kids, who are by their nature generally selfish. Kids think the universe revolves around them. Putting others first doesn't come naturally to anyone, but it's especially difficult for kids. It's the rare child who automatically thinks about other people more than he thinks about himself.
We can start teaching our kids that love requires action from a young age. What we teach our toddlers and preschoolers is the action of love. We teach them to share and be kind to others -- not because they understand the motive behind it but because we want to form the habit. As they get older, we can teach them about the heart attitude that makes them want to put others first.
Whether your kids are toddlers or teenagers, help them learn that love requires action:
- If you have toddlers and preschoolers, start teaching them that we share because we love others. If your child is having another child over, help her choose a few toys that she wants to share with the other child. As you're choosing the toys, tell your child that sharing is one way we show we love our friends. Talk about how God wants us to love other people.
- If you have grade-schoolers, help your kids begin to find ways to show love to others on their own. Help them look for opportunities to put others first. At dinner one night, make a list of actions they can take to show others they are loved. Post your list somewhere that everyone can see it as an easy reminder that God wants our actions to show love.
- If you have teenagers, encourage them to look for ways to use their actions to show love to others. Talk with them about whether the choices they are making and the way they are acting are evidence of God's love. Ask them to think of three ways they can show love to their friends and make their actions match up with their words. Ask them to identify ways in which their words and their actions aren't matching up. Encourage them to take steps to change those things.
Many times words are easy. It's not hard to say, "I love you." Following through on those words with actions can be tough. Helping our kids understand that love requires action makes them better examples of God's love to others.