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March 26, 2014
Raising the Rising Generation
Unconditional Love
by Emily S. Jorgensen

My grandmother has a favorite quote from one of her favorite books. It is this, “All love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.” The book is My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Devotion by Rachel Naomi Remen.

When she first shared this with me, it struck me as one of the greatest truths I have ever heard. I have one particularly clear memory of when I knew that I was loved unconditionally.

My father is an attorney. As such, he was often involved in cases were young people were hurt, abused, or made really stupid choices.

He couldn’t share details with us, of course, but we had an inkling what he was dealing with when he would come home from work and make all his children take a solemn oath they would never accept a ride on a motorcycle.

I recall one day when I was ironing and he came into the room. It was his room, after all. (Our laundry room was very dark and dismal. It’s no surprise my mom would rather do her ironing in her bedroom than down there.)

He sat on the edge of my parents’ bed and just shook his head, and looked at me and said something like, “Emily if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re pregnant as a teenager, please, please tell us. We won’t kick you out. We would do anything we could to help you.”

At the time I was about 14 and I just rolled by eyes and muttered something about not even having kissed anyone yet. I was kind of embarrassed about the whole idea, and figured it would be good while before I even had a boyfriend.

But, after he left the room and he couldn’t see my reaction, I smiled. I felt loved. I felt safe. I felt so happy knowing my father wouldn’t abandon me even if I really messed up my life. I knew he was sincere and I believed him.

Perhaps some parents might think these kinds of assurances invite children to test whether they are true or not. I don’t think this is often the case. On the contrary, I remember thinking, as I took my freshly-pressed clothes to my room that day, that I was determined to never disappoint my father by making such a poor choice.

Though unconditional love is not about approval, I think children who feel loved unconditionally will want to act in such a way that they won’t want to disappoint. Not because they fear they will lose a parent’s love, but they will want to show their own love and appreciation for their parent’s love by living the way their parents have taught them.

Isn’t this why we try to obey the commandments? God loves us. He gave us commandments. Perhaps some of us obey those commandments out of fear of losing God’s approval, but I hope we obey them to show God we love Him back.

As Christ himself charged us in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And in 1 John 4:18 we read further, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

Because I truly believe the best way to encourage my children to grow up to be righteous is to love them even if they aren’t, I try to often tell them that I will love them no matter what they do. Most often, I just say, “I love you,” which I try to do at least daily. But regularly I also tell them, “…and I always will, no matter what you do.”

A few months ago my kindergartener son kept telling me he was afraid he was going to grow up to be a bad guy. This started because one of his friends told him he was mean. I am pretty sure that in 5-year-old speak this really meant, “Hey, I want to play with that toy right now and I am not happy you are playing with it instead.”

Regardless, he took it pretty seriously and was worried for the future of his soul.

At first I tried to tell him he was not going to grow up to be a bad guy. He wouldn’t let it go. So then I tried, “I don’t think you will be a bad guy. It is up to you, though, you get to decide what you do and what kind of person you are. Do you want to be a bad guy?” To which he would answer, “I don’t want to be, but what if I am anyway?”

I think the first time he responded with this, I tried to convince him of all the reasons I was sure he wouldn’t be. But, as the question persisted over additional days, I started to just answer, “Well, that would make me really sad, but I would love you anyway.” That, at least, changed his question. The new question was, “would you really love me even if I were a bad guy?”

Yes. Yes, I would.

Most weeks for FHE my husband and I choose a lesson topic that is geared for what we think our children need to learn; we have had lessons on phone etiquette, appropriate sacrament meeting behavior, how to diplomatically refuse to play Transformers (and other topics related to Sharing and Playing together), Family Home “Wii”vening (Ok so that one was mostly just for fun), The Great Apple Tasting of 2013 (wherein we tasted and voted on 12 varieties of apples) and recently a review of the Plan of Salvation.

Sometimes the children have lessons they want to share as well.

Tonight we decided to do something a bit different. My husband wrote each family member’s name on the top of a piece of paper, and we passed the sheets around, each writing down the things we liked or admired about that person.

Our family has been under a fair amount of stress lately with looming competitions, recitals, due dates, business trips and the like, and I felt we needed to focus on the positive tonight.

It was a good activity, and gave me a chance to remember all the good qualities about my family members, rather than how this one never cleans up her dirty socks and that one always loses his homework folder.

But what touched me the most was that two of my children, the ones that can write in legible sentences, both wrote that they knew I would always love them.

Besides knowing their mother has a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this is the one thing I hope they always know about me — that I will love them, no matter what.

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