By Elana B.
I remember singing a song as a young child at church:
“Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong; they are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.”
I am so grateful for this simple song. It reminded me that I was loved, by one who had also experienced difficult trials, as well as unfair, unloving, and inappropriate treatment. It kept me focused on being loved by someone great and good.
. . .
This is a very difficult post to write, but it is also a critical, necessary exercise, a cathartic writ. If it helps one person, one family, especially one child, then it will bring joy to the heart of an adult who still spends time wishing for worthiness and wondering why she wasn’t lovable as a child. I know I cannot call back time and cannot change history. Further, I cannot re-write an unfortunate past or events, but I can encourage others, both children and adults, to re-work the present and thus make a better future for themselves.
Abuse and neglect, both emotional and physical, seem to be occurring everywhere; they are being reported in what seems to be ever-increasing numbers. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to avoid, minimize, counter, or stop abuse and neglect, but when it’s happening to you, especially as a child, it’s overwhelming and enervating.
To a child, survival and avoidance seem like the only viable options. First, there’s the guilt or shame for feeling that the negative treatment, words or deeds, is deserved or it wouldn’t be happening to you. Less obvious, but just as devastating, is the absence of love at home—you have no physical evidence that anyone cares for or about you. There are no hugs, no arms around the shoulder, no sitting in a lap, no holding hands with someone else, no smile, and no loving kisses on the head, cheeks, or forehead. The environment becomes so emotionally sterile and debilitating that it defies explanation.
Loving forms of physical affection are an essential element for a child to develop feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. You can tell me you love me, but if your behavior doesn’t reinforce that sentiment with signs of affection, the words vanish in thin air, leaving nothing behind. Physical affection is both a lifesaver and life “savor.” It says, loud and clear, “Someone loves me.”
As a child and youth I yearned for physical closeness, but it was rare in my family. Instead of getting it from other people in my family, I found it with my pets—sleeping with my cocker spaniel in her dog house, feeling the warmth of that slumbering canine next to me, or sneaking the family cat into my bed, hearing the gentle purring and cuddling around her warm, furry body. I also developed close friendships outside the family, some of which are over 55 years in the making and keeping.
As a teen-ager, when I thought about being married and having children, I would daydream about the house I would live in, the neighbors I would visit while pushing a stroller down the sidewalk, and the handsome and devoted husband who would come home each night after work.
But the one thing I didn’t leave to dreaming was the promise that as a mother I would be devoted to my children, not by giving them everything they asked for, but spending time with them—hugging them often, for no special reason, kissing them, reading to them as they sat in my lap, singing to them, rocking them to sleep, praying with them each night, and insisting on holding their hand as we walked to school or church, even beyond the point when they protested that they were too grown up to be holding mom’s hand. I now also do that with my grandchildren.
It’s never too late to let your children or the other important people in your life know just how much you love them. Make loving, physical affection the axis on which your world turns. Love is an action verb and the best time to do it is now. Even if you’ve never been a “touchy, feely” type of person, you can change. Your children will thank you and probably hug you back. They will also remember the feeling it gives them when someone who says “I love you” actually shows them that love in action, emulating our greatest of all examples of love. Jesus loves us—this I know.