“He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and turn the hearts of children to their fathers. . .” (Malachi 4:6; ref. Luke 1:17)
During December, Molly and I went to see the movie Fireproof. I don’t really have a lot to say about the movie; as is fairly typical of such movies, it had a solid message, but was executed in a pretty unsubtle manner. But, like some others, we were inspired to go get the book which the movie highlights, The Love Dare.
We didn’t dive right into the book; our marriage is really in pretty solid shape, and we don’t have much of a ‘felt need’ to make huge, transformative changes (not that there are no improvements that we could make; but it’s nice to be in a place not so far from ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’). But, over the Christmas break, Molly had what I can only refer to as an inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
“What if we did ‘The Love Dare’ with the kids?”
It was an idea stunning in its simplicity, and very pointedly directed at the needs of our family (and, maybe more to the point, to Molly’s-and-my needs as parents).
If you haven’t seen the movie, the couple at the heart of the story are struggling in their marriage, and on the edge of calling it quits. But the husband’s father convinces him to try ‘The Love Dare’ for 40 days, in a last, desperate effort to save their marriage. Every day for 40 days, there is a brief meditation on ‘Love’, or ‘Kindness’, or ‘Generosity’, etc, and an associated ‘dare’ – do some act of unsolicited kindness to your spouse, or whatever that day’s topic happens to be. And of course, by the end of the movie, the husband, by his persistent love (which, at first, he does pretty ‘mechanically’, but, as he goes along, he ‘grows into it’), has won back the heart of his wife.
So Molly was proposing that we take the chapters of The Love Dare, and, as parents together, direct them toward our kids. And it has been really, really good for us.
The first day, the ‘dare’ is simply to refrain from criticism. And honestly, I was surprised by how challenging that simple thing was, to pull off for a whole day. We were both confronted with how very critical we are of our kids, and how much of our day-to-day communication with them is critical, in one form or another.
On another of the early days, the ‘dare’ is to do some gracious act – some act of unmerited kindness. . . And so on. . .
And the thing is, we are feeling our hearts starting to change, toward our kids.
Both Molly and I can be fairly self-centered individuals. She can be very ‘task-oriented’, and I have a strong tendency to get lost in my own head. And both of us are pretty darned stubborn, and hotter-tempered than is always helpful. And those traits, over the course of 26+ years of parenthood, have often worked together to the detriment of our kids, who don’t know, as well as they should, that their parents love them, and take an intense interest in their lives and well-being. We’ve come to a good place in our marriage, but we’ve struggled a bit more to export the ‘good fruit’ of our strong marriage to the lives of our kids. And this is helping us to do that.
We haven’t been perfect with it, and we’re purposely taking it slow, so we can solidify the ‘habits of heart’ that are slowly being formed in us; I think we’re on Day Five, about two or three weeks after getting started (of course, some of that is because we have eight kids – we aren’t exempting our grown-and-moved-out kids from the project – whereas the book was written to be carried out toward one spouse). And we’re seeing how the kids respond, when we’re less critical, and kinder, and more gracious toward them. . . Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope that our family will get stronger, and more loving, and that our younger kids might avoid some of the struggles that their older siblings have had.
On one level, it seems a shame that we’re coming to this now, roughly two-thirds of the way (or more) through our child-rearing career. But, we do what we can. Wisdom and love come, more often than one might wish, out of the ashes of our own foolishness and failure.
And God is merciful.
Which is a darn good thing. . .