When you are a kid, life is simple, and so are the lessons. Be nice. Listen to your parents. Make good choices. We learn that being an adult is so complicated, so difficult. We joke with our kids never to grow up; being an adult stinks. There are so many responsibilities, so many choices, so many burdens. They listen, wide-eyed. We say these things to keep them from wanting to grow up too soon, to prepare them for what’s to come.
It’s kind of mean.
I have never learned so much about life as I have since my kids were born. I grabbed the opportunity to stay home and raise them, protected fiercely what has become a privilege in our country, to go without pay simply to be home with my kids as they grow up. It’s allowed me to simplify my life, to see the world through their eyes without the additional layers of an outside job to consider.
From the beginning of their lives, the instructions were simple: Eat. Sleep. All the love came from me, from my husband. As they grew, we added: Use nice words. Use nice touches. Do not hit. Do not shout. Use your manners. Say please and thank you. Say you’re sorry.
As they got older, the rules became more detailed. They are older children now: they can handle it, they can understand. But the old rules still apply: Use nice words. Do not hit. Say please and thank you. The essence is the same.
Love one another. And, love God.
The “love God” rule came early, in a different way, and for different reasons. We may have relied on Sunday School teachers too much for this, weren’t consistent with speaking these words at home, didn’t write them on our doorposts (see Deuteronomy 11:18-21). We didn’t say “Love God” nearly as much as we said “Do not hit.” But they still got it.
I have learned that these simple lessons can be applied to every aspect of life, even if the details and situations in which we apply them are complex. It can be difficult, particularly in terrible situations like losing a loved one or when others are unlovable. But we are adults. We can handle it, we can understand. The lessons we learn as kids and teach our own kids haven’t changed in complexity. They are still simple: Love God. Love others.
When I keep these lessons as the focus of how I live, things seem simpler. I believe that I am doing what God wants me to, what he expects me to. Questions arise, bumps in the road appear, loved ones are taken and puzzling and tragic events still happen. But when I focus on loving God and others, the steps are clearer. Questions seem much less urgent and my trust and faith take over that God will do what he promises. The details fall away at times where they threaten to take over.
Life is not simple, but the instructions for living are. I believe it’s my job to make the right choices, to do the right thing, and at times that is very difficult. But the lessons that are the foundation of how I live are simple, and they are lessons that I learned early, and that I continue to teach my kids.
Love God. Love others.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (NKJV)
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. John 13:34 (NLT)