– What Our MItzvah to Love Hashem Can teach us About Loving Our Own Children
“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12)
A big part of the work I do with parents is in finding ways to be open-hearted and to feel unconditional, abundant love for our children, even when they’re behaving in less than ideal ways. For a child, experiencing love abundantly, as an unconditional birthright, is a crucial ingredient for the maturation process and for growing into a resilient and confident adult. This love is the inner foundation that creates a secure core in children for the rest of their lives. As a renowned child psychologist, Dr. Deborah MacNamara puts it: “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.” The womb of personhood is a relational one and it is our connection to our children that unlocks their potential to mature.”
What should that love look like? I find the Rambam’s description of how we should strive to love Hashem helpful in understanding this. “What is the proper [degree] of love? That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he is lovesick” (Rambam Hilchot Teshuva, 10)
The question arises – how can one be told to be open-hearted and to love? Love is an emotion, after all. It can’t be turned on or off at will. It needs to be felt, right? On Shabbat, my husband explained this commandment while giving a blessing to a Chatan and Kala (a bride and groom), saying that the Torah addresses two kinds of love: there is spontaneous love that bubbles up from our hearts, and then there is disciplined love, where one makes a practice of loving the other, even when it’s not spontaneous, or even easy.
We can make being open-hearted and loving abundantly a practice, something we long for and strive for. Reaching past the blocks and places our hearts get hardened to a commitment to truth. What lies in our core is love, and we can learn to access this love, live it, and share it. Here we stand right before the month of Elul, the most auspicious time for teshuva. This is a time for coming close, for reconnecting to our desires, our deepest aspirations, and our intentions. Now is a time we can embrace the practice of open-heartedness. Of abundantly and wholeheartedly loving the ones closest to us.
“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live”. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
The practice: If you are feeling despondent and hopeless regarding your children’s behavior, practice seeing your children’s faces in your mind’s eye, in their most angelic form. Open to the feelings of love that arise when you see them in this light and allow your love for them to tug at your heartstrings, Let these feelings grow and expand until you feel moved by your love for your kids, and you can then let these feelings flow from you toward your children. Practice seeing your child in this light all day long, even when your child’s behavior does not match the image. Especially when their behavior does not match that image. When you believe that the image you see in your mind’s eye is the truest manifestation of your child, then you can start to feel open-hearted and loving towards them even in the hardest moments.
Remember, When you see your child in this light, you are reaffirming their goodness and Godliness to yourself and reflecting it to them. You can remind yourself in this way that their behavior is not who they are, and stay connected to them through the turbulent tides as well as the calm ones.