Supposedly, the older we get, the wiser we become. But when it comes to love, the opposite appears to be true. Often the older we get, the worse we become at loving people. You don’t meet too many judgmental, cynical, defensive, or hurtful little kids. If you do, it’s probably because those kids have most likely experienced more of the tough things in life than many adults have.
How do I know this is true? Because my own kids – Hudson, Grayson, Wilson, and Anderson Weber – have loved me better than most people on this planet through some of my worst moments.
Case in point: One day, a few summers ago, I had a really hard day. I got a few not-so-fun emails. Received a not-so-fun phone call. The people-pleaser in me was trying to make everyone happy, and well, it wasn’t working. I felt like a failure. This particular week I had way overbooked myself. On top of feeling like a failure, I was so busy, it felt like I didn’t even have time to breathe.
Somehow, I survived the day. But on my drive home, instead of catching a short break, I took yet another phone call, which lasted right up until I parked my car in our garage. I was spent and was hoping for a quiet moment once I got into the house.
But… I’m a father of four kids. Our house isn’t quiet (it’s mass chaos) until everyone is sleeping at the end of the day, and that time was hours away. Once home, I planned to go into my house and directly up to our bedroom as quickly as I could, locking the door behind me. For my kids’ sake—sparing them from seeing what I was feeling in that moment—and also for my own sanity, I just needed a little alone time.
Unfortunately, my plan was a no-go. The moment I stepped out of my garage, I was greeted by all four kids. At once. They were in our backyard playing in the sprinklers and shooting each other with squirt guns, having a blast. They were laughing hysterically. It was the picture of joy, fun, and happiness. Cue the cranky old dad! As soon as I exited the garage, I became their primary target, and they started soaking me with water.
Typically, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d join in the fun and grab a squirt gun, even if it wasn’t planned. But it had been a rough day, a really rough day. I got sprayed. Asking them to stop just brought the water on harder and got them (like any kids) more excited to keep on spraying me. I could tell they wanted to help—to break me out of my crabbiness by getting me more involved in the water fight, but it didn’t work. I got sprayed. Again. And out of nowhere, it was like I turned into a dragon. I snapped. As I write this, I’m honestly embarrassed to share the details of what happened next.
In the midst of being sprayed by the water guns that had appeared out of nowhere, I somehow managed to lose one of my shoes. I quickly spotted it—there it was—soaked in a puddle of water. My shoe was soaked, and me? I was now standing in a puddle of water with a fully-submerged foot and sock. That was the last straw!
What did I do? I picked up the sopping-wet shoe and started hitting it against the ground as hard as I possibly could. Over and over again. I sprayed water and mud everywhere as the shoe hit the earth, yelling as I did. I wasn’t directing my anger toward anyone, I was just screaming to let off steam. But let’s just pause here and agree this wasn’t my best moment as a dad.
But I still had a little lower left to sink. My arm was quickly starting to get tired as I hit the ground with my shoe (I’m getting old). So I took the shoe, and what did I do? I chucked it! Hard. As far as I could! If there was an Olympic event for shot-putting footwear, I would have qualified. The shoe sailed over our garage and ended up hitting the side of our neighbor’s house!
Yep, I threw my shoe, and it hit our neighbor’s house.
Seeing their dad acting like a madman, my kids went from laughing and dancing in the sprinklers to crying their eyes out. Bawling! “Dad, are you okay? Are you okay? Dad, what’s wrong?” They ran into the house to get away from the craziness. My wife, Becky, needed no words. Her glance said it all. Who are you? She followed the kids into the house.
A few minutes passed. I came to my senses a bit. Dripping and shoeless, I walked inside. Embarrassed? Sure. But more than just embarrassed, at that moment, I was struggling to process what I was feeling. I laid down right in the middle of our living room floor, trying to gather my thoughts. I was hurting and exhausted.
“Kids,” I asked gently, “can you come over here to me?” All four did. The only words I could get out after that were, “Dad is hurting, and I’m sorry for acting that way.”
Without even asking, all of them gathered around and hugged me. Their love didn’t need words. It was so honest, so accepting—even after my moment outside.
Each of them touched me with their love, but I’ll never forget how my son Wilson responded. Wilson is our adopted son from Ethiopia, and he rarely offers a hug to anyone. Physical touch isn’t his thing. He’s pretty guarded in general and doesn’t show affection often, even to me and Bec. When it comes to hugs, typically, you have to chase him down to get one. Literally. But in that moment, he saw me hurting. He walked up to me, leaning his body into mine. It was the best hug I’ve ever received from him.
The kids didn’t say a word. They didn’t tell me I was crazy (until the next day when we laughed about the whole shoe-throwing thing). They didn’t hide from me or make me feel like an insane person.
They just loved me.
Pretty cool story, huh? Well, maybe not the part where I freaked out and threw the shoe, but you get the picture. So, how do we practice a love that looks like the type a little kid gives? It’s pretty simple.
1. Love doesn’t always need words.
In order to love me that day, my kids didn’t even need to speak. They were just there. Present. When I went inside to lie on the floor and gather my thoughts, my kids didn’t rush in and try to tell me what I was feeling or what I should have done differently. Instead, they knelt down beside me and sat in that hurt with me. They felt my pain, and I felt their love without them having to say anything at all.
As adults, we need to do this more. So often, we’re quick to speak when wanting to show people we love them. We attempt to fix their problems, instead of just being present. Sure, at times words are needed, but a lot of times, especially when those we love are hurting, we don’t really need to say anything at all.
2. Love is constant.
The unconditional love kids show is constant—present each day, and it never seems to waver. Yes, sometimes kids get mad and hold a grudge, but where adult grudges can last years, kids’ barely last a few minutes. Their love resets almost as fast as their attention spans, and it’s a love that endures over the long haul.
3. Love is based on you, not what you do.
The love that kids have isn’t based on what you do, it’s based on who you are. Kids don’t care about titles. My kids could honestly care less if I pastored a church of ten thousand or just our family of six. They don’t care how many followers I have on Instagram. They only care that I’m their dad. Kids simply care about you as a person, not your accomplishments, status, or lack thereof.
Hudson, Wilson, Grayson, and Anderson Weber are not perfect examples of love by any means (just come over to our house some night and you’ll see). But they have shown me what it means to love like a kid—a love that’s constant, unconditional, and sees the best in other people. A love that doesn’t always need words to show it’s there.