Monday, June 8, 2020

The Overwhelming Curse of Feeling Unloved

A tune from an old musical asks, “What’s the problem with kids today?” That question has many possible answers, but according to research, feeling unloved is definitely one of them.

Recently I heard of a study in which nearly 80 percent of Christian young people responded that they felt unloved. This was Christian young people – apparently those being raised in homes where Jesus Christ is professed and the family regularly attends church. How can this be?

On the face of it, the findings seem like a mistake. After all, these kids probably learned “Jesus Loves Me” as children. They probably heard the biblical declaration that “God is love” (1 John 4:16) many times. And they learned that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” for our sins (John 3:16). And yet, they claimed to feel unloved.

The long-term consequences of lacking the comfort and security of feeling loved are devastating. They include despair and hopelessness, which can lead to chemical abuse, seeking love from illegitimate sources, and even suicide. And sadly, a large percentage of young people abandon the faith after leaving their family homes.

Feeling unloved, despite being raised in a Christian environment, might not be as strange as we’d think. Because expressing love involves more than merely verbalizing the words, “I love you.” And sometimes, even in upstanding homes, that doesn’t happen much. Love is best expressed – and felt – when it’s not just said, but also demonstrated. Through time, touch, and talk.

It was my generation, the Baby Boomers, who came up with the term, “quality time,” to justify spending just minutes, rather than hours, with their children. “We don’t spend a lot of quantity time with the kids, but when we are together, it’s quality time!” Too often, however – when we’re not sequestered due to pandemic restrictions – that “time” consists of chauffeuring them to and from school, as well as myriad activities. But true, one-on-one time for any extended period is rare. 

Hopefully, stay-at-home orders prompted some to revive the tradition, but the family dinner table has fallen victim to modern living. TV, which often serves as the great American anesthetic, makes a poor substitute for direct parent-child interaction. And how often have you seen an entire family sitting at a restaurant table, everyone zoned in on their smartphones?

Touch, particularly by a father, also is a valuable way of showing love. Men have always found it more difficult to indulge in hugs and kisses, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Especially when children are small. With so many families suffering from absentee fathers, children grow up lacking a healthy hug, even an encouraging pat on the back. Studies have shown that almost from the moment they’re born, infants need physical touch to thrive. They need that from mom – and dad.

Then there’s talk – on a meaningful, personal level. The Bible offers numerous examples of the impact of intentionally planned spoken words. In Genesis 27, we see the example of Jacob being the beneficiary of his father Isaac’s blessing – which with the help of his mother, Rebekah, he had finagled from his twin brother, Esau. Then one chapter later, Isaac blesses Jacob again, saying, “May God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham…” (Genesis 28:3-4).

Can you imagine how much it must have meant for Jacob (later renamed Israel) to hear those words? Then, in Genesis 49, we read about Jacob continuing the tradition by giving individual blessings to his sons – although not always the most affirming declarations.

The demonstration of God-centered love in all of its forms seems described in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, after Moses had concluded giving the Israelites the Ten Commandments and a special corporate blessing. He said, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” 

In an age when segments of society would seek to eliminate all mention of our loving, all-knowing, eternal God, what better way to display our love for Him and our children than to live out our faith before them and take every opportunity to tell them about Him? Time, touch and talk – three remedies for a young person feeling unloved. Offering each is a blessing; to withhold them can constitute a curse.

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