The love of a child

I have four grown children whom I love dearly…and I’m pretty sure they love me back. I also have four little children who I’ll never see again and whom I miss dearly. They loved me too, but in a different way than my grown children do. I miss their hugs and kisses, their desire to be close to me, and their total trust in and dependence on me.

There’s absolutely nothing that compares to the love of a child, and as I think back on my weeks of posts on the evils of abortion, I am struck by the magnitude of precious and sweet love and devotion that could have been but never will be because the child was intentionally destroyed. But this post is not about that.

This post is about how a little child loves, and why we should be like them. Unless they are given good reason not to be, and often even if they are, young children are totally trusting in their parents. Trust is one aspect of childlike love. I remember driving a winding stretch of road with three of my four young children in the car and thinking about my inability to absolutely guarantee their safety as we traveled. I’m a good driver but not everyone on the road is, and accidents do happen. But I knew my kids were totally at ease in the back seat, confident that we would make it to our destination safely. I found this both gratifying and sobering.

Dependence is another feature of the way a child loves. Though not itself an expression of love, it fosters love in young children for the primary people who protect and provide for them, i.e. parents. It also elicits tender yet powerful feelings of nurturing love of the parent for the child. When the child grows and is no longer dependent on the parent, though love remains, like the child it changes. My grown children and I can go weeks without contact, which would have been unthinkable when they were very young.

A longing to be near, then, is also a characteristic of childlike love, and of parental love for the young child. It’s good, of course, that that longing eventually fades, otherwise grown children would never leave home and their attachment to Mommy would seriously compromise other attachments. Few women would be happy being married to a mama’s boy.

So why should we be like little children? I’ve often pondered the way love between parents and children changes, especially as I’ve mourned the loss of my young children’s devotion to me, and the kind of love we used to share. And I’ve wondered if that kind of love is still available to empty-nesters as well as those who’ve never had children. Might this mutually gratifying, soul-satisfying, deeply felt yet somewhat mystifying love be characteristic of a proper relationship with God? Is this some of what Jesus meant by, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”? 

Think about the similarities between young children’s relationship to their parents and ours to God:

  • We owe our existence to him.
  • He has control over our lives.
  • We are weak, ignorant, and helpless compared to him.
  • He protects and provides for us.
  • He directs our lives towards a goal for our good.

Now think about how it must bless God when we acknowledge our dependence on him and, trusting in his sacrificial love and provision for us, love him with the devoted affection of a young child for her mother or father. And how it would truly bless us if we genuinely saw him as a strong, invincible, loving, trustworthy father like many of us saw our earthly fathers when we were children. Or a tender, nurturing, self-sacrificing, life-giving parent like, hopefully, our mothers were in our eyes.

Little children love Mommy and Daddy with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And I just can’t adequately express how such love from my own four children filled my heart and drove my desire to fully protect and provide for them, and to always have them near. If this is the kind of love relationship God wants to have with us, we would be foolish not to want it too.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1