Have you ever noticed how children as young as three or four-years-old are enamored with the idea of friendship and being known? I’ve certainly observed this to be true. My daughter, who is five, is captivated by the relationship between my wife and me. She already says she wants to be married. Combine that with love-ladened fairytales and I’m having to think about how to talk about love to my daughter long before I thought I would.
So, here is a letter to my daughter sharing what I want her to know about love:
To my daughter,
There are some things I want you to understand about love in and out of the context of a romantic relationship. But please know these are subject to change as I, too, learn more. But as of today, in the year 2021 when you are just five years old, there are a few things I want you to know.
Love is not a feeling. Love is a commitment. Culture assigns certain feelings to love—like the feeling of connection or feeling seen and understood. Those feelings are amazing. However, you’ll come to understand as you get older that those feelings may indicate appreciation and validation, but they alone are not love.
The times I felt the most in love were the times when I felt the most resolved to conduct myself in a loving way despite what I wanted to do. In that way, you and your brother have helped me experience my capacity to love. I didn’t often feel like changing diapers or getting up in the middle of the night, but my love compelled me to go beyond my feelings to do the loving thing and make sacrifices. And when the appropriate time comes, I want you to choose to do the same.
Be okay with your definition of love evolving. God is love, but your understanding of God will evolve in time. I can tell you what love is like. The apostle Paul wrote about it . . .
It’s not jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.
It’s always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.
It doesn’t demand its own way.
It’s not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
(Paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT)
But your understanding of these words will evolve as you do. And that’s okay. But knowing this, I want you to be cautious about how you engage in romantic relationships in your youth. Even though you’ll grow and change, some heartbreak can leave lifelong scars.
Experience, don’t experiment. Despite my desire to protect you from all hurt, I’m excited for you to establish relationships for the sake of discovering who you are—what you like and what you don’t, what brings you joy and what doesn’t. I want you to learn from relationships, but I don’t want you to experiment with your heart. There’s a difference between learning and putting your heart in harm’s way.
So, please remember this:
Finding out who you are is more important than how “it” feels.
Many people leverage their curiosity to stoke the flames of discontent and envy by wondering what it’s like or how it feels to do what others are doing. It’s rooted in a false idea that everyone’s situation or relationship is better than theirs so they manufacture opportunities and experiment.
Instead, I urge you to learn from current relationships and experiences by asking yourself questions: “Who was I in that situation?” “How did I feel in that situation?” “Does this relationship with that person align with who I want to be?”
Andy Stanley said it best: “Experience doesn’t make you wiser. Evaluated experience makes you wiser.”
Potential is irrelevant. Dating or marrying someone based solely on potential is pointless because everyone has potential. Potential is a natural resource given by the Creator of the universe. But someone can choose—or not choose—to cultivate that potential.
You can’t make someone care about being all they can be. Their potential belongs to them and you can’t make them use it. If you find yourself falling into a pattern of nurturing people’s potential, I want you to ask yourself why this is your focus. Does it have anything to do with you? Is it selfishly motivated? If you remove yourself from the situation, would that person still be progressing?
I’m not challenging you to look for perfection in someone. I’m challenging you to look for the progress they’re making on their own within themselves. That will be a positive sign.
I don’t claim to know all there is about love. I’m still learning its nuances even in my mid-30s. What I do know comes from years of trial, error, and heartbreak. So, it is my hope, baby girl, that you can learn from your relationship with God, from our relationship, from my experiences, and combine them with your own experiences to have a well-rounded view of love.