The other night while our family of four was crammed in the bathroom getting teeth brushed for bed, our 7 year old daughter looked like something was on her mind. She started to say, "Mommy, do you lov-" but trailed off. I knew she wanted to ask, "Do you love me?" So, I said, "Sweetie, ask for what you need." (got that from shame resiliency training!) She said, "Tell me you love me and 5 reasons why."
Great question! And I think I'm a queen of 'reasons why.' When Tim (my husband) and I were dating, I made him a cake that had 24 - one for each year of his life - slips of paper buried in the cake, each with a reason why he was great. Finding the first reason in his first bite of cake was quite a surprise and the bigger surprise for me was how hard it was to read! I resurrected this when he turned 30 . . . but, alas, too many slips of paper = very lumpy cake!
But when Chiara asked me this with a mouthful of toothpaste, I paused and didn't go to my default place of praise, "because you are a good big sister," "because you are a ray of sunshine," "because you try hard in school," "because you show good priorities when you pull out the Children's Bible for your bedtime stories" - all things for which I'm proud of her and all things for which I'm thankful.
But what about the days she is fed up with being a good big sister? What about the day when the sun ain't shining? What about the time she will choose to slack off in math? Or pulls out Captain Underpants? And what about the days she is all those things but I miss it because I'm cranky, preoccupied, or oblivious?
From her 7 year old perspective, would I then not love her? Would she then not be worthy of my love? Would my love be conditional? And would she feel like she had to hide these imperfections from me in fear of disappointing me?
So, instead, what bubbled up for me was all about connection and belonging and I said, "I love you because we grow together, and we are family, we belong together forever, because you teach me, and no matter what, you will always be my precious daughter."
John 3:16 is a beloved Bible verse found on bumper stickers, needlepointed pillows, and banners in churches; it's like Jesus is the answer from God to us when we say 'tell me why you love me, God?'
In traversing the landscape from conditional (when, if, for, because) to unconditional (it is, I am) I'm always jumping the border and getting lost on some backroad. But I'm really thankful to have found Brené Brown's research and writing as a map.
And Chiara's question reminded me of a quote from Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, "No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's [wholehearted living] going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging."
We are worthy. Period. No prepositions added.