Talking to my kids about love scares me. 

Love feels like such a massive, important topic and I’m afraid I’ll mess it up. My kids are eight and three—how can I distill the grand concept of love in a way they’ll understand not only now but for a lifetime? To be honest, I’m only just discovering what love is…at the not-so-tender age of nearly 40.

It’s not that I wasn’t taught about love growing up. I was. But I was taught about love mostly through observation, received acts of service, and through the interpretations of it by my parents, teachers, and other adults I encountered. But if you’re reading this right now, you know an understanding of some of life’s greatest lessons often comes through darkness, trauma, and how people show up for you in your lowest moments.

So, with a bit more life (and trauma) under my proverbial belt, I am gaining an up-close understanding of love that I want to share with my children, and here’s what I want them to know:

If you’re ever confused about what love truly is, look no further than the Bible’s New Testament. Whether you’re a Bible skeptic or an avid believer, it’s hard not to admit that the basic tenets of love outlined in I Corinthians 13:4-7 are pretty legit. Love really is all of those things the Bible says it is—it’s patient, it’s kind, and it doesn’t dishonor others. These verses will always be a helpful litmus test of love, no matter what situation my children find themselves in.

As unromantic as this sounds, love is often more fact than feeling. Feelings change, but the basics of love and what it means rarely do. It is my sincere hope my children know that the strong feelings they may have for someone don’t always indicate love. Love often requires us to closely examine the contents of the other person’s heart and character rather than being solely focused on how we feel about them.

Love is full of compromises, but your character shouldn’t be one of them. True love will never ask you to compromise who you are. Yes, love will require you to be more flexible, more patient, and more mindful of your words and actions, but it will never require you to change who you are at a soul, God-ordained level. 

Love usually requires a sacrifice of preferences. Desire often clouds judgment. Sometimes, acting on what you want now is not always the most loving thing you can do for the other person when thinking long-term. Love considers what is right now and what is to come.

To love often means to wait. There are a lot of pauses in loving interactions, especially when it comes to words and actions. Discernment is a superpower, and if someone is consistently asking you to rush decisions without first sitting in the presence of the Holy Spirit and your intuition, that person is not acting in love.

The best way to learn how to love someone else is by learning how to love yourself first. It’s difficult to execute a lesson you’re actively learning. The same is true of love. The best case study on how to love someone well begins with how well you love yourself. There is much to learn about love when you commit to loving the unlovable parts of yourself. When you love yourself without condition, it gives you a real-life example of what it means to show grace and mercy. Learning those lessons when it’s just you involved keeps unnecessary heartache at bay and decreases tremendously the potential damage to someone else. 

I don’t have love all figured out, and I know my children will have to go through their own rough patches to fully grasp what it means to truly love and be loved. But with all of my heart, I hope my kids know that their complicated questions about love are not without simple answers—that at the heart of it, the greatest example of love is the one God shows them every single day.