Words are powerful things.
I can remember, with startling clarity, specific sentences that people said to me decades ago. Some of those were positive; some were negative. And in each case, I can recall not just the words, but the tone. The diction. The facial expression. And, then ultimately, how those words made me feel.
What makes them more powerful is the source from which they come. Kind words, though they might produce a nice feeling, are likely not to mean nearly as much coming to you from a mere acquaintance as they would coming from someone you immensely respect and admire. Hurtful criticism doesn’t sting as much from the person you barely know as the one you thought you could trust.
Bring all that together, and it’s a powerful reminder that we, as parents, have a tremendously powerful weapon in our children’s lives. This weapon, to be used for good or ill, is our voice. Our spoken words. With that in mind, here are five statements your child probably could do with hearing from you today:
1. “I like you.”
This is a very, very different statement than, “I love you.” I don’t mean to devalue the statement of love, but I do think that a genuine enjoyment of our children is important to express. There are all kinds of people that we might love, or at least claim to love, and yet make no effort to be around. That’s simply because we don’t enjoy their company. There may not be any statement more powerful to fill a child with confidence in their own individual personality than the honest enjoyment of his or her parents.
When we say, “I like you,” to our children, we are following the example of our Heavenly Father. Many of us need to feel the freedom that comes in knowing that God is not a Father who simply puts up with us, but one that really, truly, honestly, genuinely likes us: “He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).
2. “You are my child.”
Security. Safety. Stability. These are important things in the life of a child (and in the life of an adult, for that matter). Our kids need to hear from us verbally that they belong to us. They are our children. And nothing will ever change that. When we make this claim, verbally, loudly, and even publicly, our kids know that we are not ashamed to lay claim to them.
Gratefully, neither is the Lord. We are His children, and He is not ashamed to call us His own. No matter what else happens in life, no matter how many times and how many ways we might be rejected, we are secure in God’s claim over us. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why God has sent His Spirit to dwell in us – to remind us that we are His: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15-16).
3. “I’m proud of you.”
Oh, what a glorious thing to hear! To know that you are valued and appreciated, especially by someone that you love. While the words, “You are my child” speaks deeply to our identity, these words speak deeply to the way we are living and moving in the world. Our children should know, as they continue to grow in godliness and faith, that we are proud parents. That we do not look longingly at other children with different personalities and different gifts. That these are our children, treasured gifts given to us from God.
And what a thing it is to hear this from on high. What a thing to be adopted into God’s family, co-heirs with Christ. What a thing to be counted righteous in Him. What a thing to know that God has not made a mistake either when He formed us, or when He called us into His family. What a thing to hear, because of the gospel, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” (Matthew 3:17).
4. “I will come get you.”
Our kids should hear this as well. They should know that if they ever find themselves in a place or situation in which they are uncomfortable, if they should ever wander far from where they ought to be, if they should ever go through a season in which they stray far from faith and home, that we will come get them. We will cross the distance and pay the price to do so, for these are our children.
And this is what the Lord says to us. We were, at one time or another, all those kids who went off into the far country. We were those were like lost coins. We were those who were like lost sheep. But the Lord did not shout His pleas from heaven to come home – He came and got us: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
5. “The Lord loves you more.”
This is true. It is a false statement for us to tell our children that we love them more than anyone else, for the Lord loves them even more still. He wants even more good for them. He is more committed to their growth and maturity. He is the only One who, not only loves them, but can ultimately, faithfully, and eternally act on their behalf.
We love our children. That’s why we say these things. Gloriously, though, God loves them more.