Grace & Unconditional Love

Recently, a friend wrote to me about the weighty challenges he was having with his older children and asked how he might  "get a better grip on the true meaning of grace and applying unconditional love." Following are a few ideas I shared with him.
Because of an ongoing dedication to rearing three children, and the many lessons we continue to learn, your question today about how to "get a better grip on the true meaning of grace and applying unconditional love," touched a tender place in my heart - if not a well trod place at that. Understandably, I too have asked myself of your concern and have devoted considerable time to reflection and deliberation. I am certain I don't have the definitive answers to such weighty matters, but if interested in a layman's point view, I'd be honored to share what I've learned over the past 34 years.

The application of grace and unconditional love appears to be more about art than science. When children find themselves at the crossroads where their errant behavior and natural consequences collide, a parent's first reaction tends to be one that rescues. There's always that delicate balance and questioning which of two responses, withhold or release, will be perceived as loving and be most effective. Though both options are an expression of a parents love, the one the refrains from "giving in" will more than likely not be perceived as loving.

Before we opt to interceded and deliver our children from their predicaments, we must first ask ourselves whether our kindness will be perceived as giving them something they genuinely don't deserve (i.e. grace), or will such an intervention result in "enabling" our children and thereby instilling in them a psychological justification that serves to perpetuate heedless behaviors? While grace engenders a greater sense of gratitude, which is one of the greatest gifts we can ever hope to leave our children, enabling them along a self-destructive path is counterproductive and exacerbates the problem.

From my experience of working with both children and adults, I believe that more often than not, parents are prone to misapply unconditional love and mistake it for magnanimity, when in fact they are merely handing them a ready supply of nails for their own coffin. Sorry to be so frank, but I've seen the lives of too many teenagers come to an end all too soon.

Yes, I am keenly aware that God requires that we parents are to being loving to our children while trusting Him to work out the consequences of how the recipient responds. However, I am nonetheless awake to the very real possibilities that my benevolence could just as easily result in being snorted, injected, inhaled, drank or misused in any number of unintended ways.

What kind of love encourages or nourishes one's disposition, self-deceived or otherwise, to self-destruct? Is it wise to reward a rebellious heart or is it unconditional love that draws a line in the sand? We can either acquiesce and allow them to go fallow, or establish a standard to return to and gain understanding from the lap of obedience. It's a tough call, and not always as black and white as we thought it would be - especially when the challenge is our own offspring.

So then, I have to ask myself, is my response a true expression of love or, in effect, an assisted suicide? On the one hand, not providing them what they need might be analogous to passive euthanasia, while contributing to their immediate appeal could prove just as tragic. Again, unconditional love and grace is more about the art than a prescriptive manual. 

If it's true that "We can only learn by loving," it must follow that in order to learn we must first define what "loving" looks like and how we might best express it. Over the years, I have grappled with this quest for authentic, efficacious love, and little by little a few guiding principles have emerged - or should I say evolved. Regardless, when I am confronted with the dilemma of defining my love in terms of doing the right thing, as opposed to merely doing some thing, these little nuggets seem to have helped me best define what I could do to best express unconditional love and grace:

LEGITIMATE: Is my response legitimate?
First of all, does my remedy make sense? Is it permissible, reasonable, lawful, warranted? More importantly, for me, is it scriptural? That is, does my action violate God's Word or are my motives in good standing with the ultimate authority on love?

OBJECTIVE: What's my primary objective?
What it is I hope to accomplish or contend my offering will achieve? Being a mentor to teachers, I forced them to articulate the precise behavior they hoped to see exhibited in their students as a direct result of their lesson (i.e. "behavioral objective"). Will my approach produce the intended purpose or hinder it? Or even worse, will my actions exacerbate the concern?

VISION: What does my vision discern?
Though I cannot be responsible for how my gift of love will be used, what do I foresee as the result? What does my gut tell me? Regardless of whether or not my sight and perception readily come into focus, I still pray for clarity and deeper discernment. In general, women tend to be better equipped in the area of intuition, and therefore I will often seek counsel from from my wife.

EXPERIENCE: What's my experience tell me?
Though my heart desires to be obedient to the call of love, weighing everything I have come to know, undergone and encountered about this person, event or matter, and taking into account all the facts and circumstances I have assembled, what is the best, most prudent course of of action? Have I been bitten before? And if so, should their natural inclination to attack alter my nature to give? Or has my experience taught me to know when my intervention will do more harm than good? That is to say, the gift of withholding can be just as loving, if not more, as the one that furnishes.

Ben Franklin once said that, "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other." It's not that I am concerned for looking the fool but rather that I avoid a foolish response. I know you and I are convinced your concern is not about mustering enough sensitivity to the needs of others, but rather what to do with the conscious awareness of those hurts and needs.

I guess when it's all said and done, the art of loving comes down to knowing when I am to be the hands of God or to entrust Him to be the best expression of that love.

I hope this offers a bit of insight.

©Photosical - the photographic and philosophical observations of Orange County PhotographerMark Jordan Photography

Orange County Photographer, Mark Jordan Photography, a family portrait photographer in Rancho Santa Margarita, specializes in crafting striking family portrait photography with styles ranging from contemporary, traditional, and storytelling. Mark Jordan photography (as award winning beach photographer) also specializes in beach family photographyhigh school seniorschildren portraitsbabiesmaternity and headshots. Mark Jordan, a Photography Hall of Fame photographer (a Rancho Santa Margarita portrait studio), and provides family portrait photography throughout Orange County and Southern California. Mark Jordan's Orange County family portrait studio also serves San Diego County and Inland Empire. Studio Photography Services are also provided in Riverside County and Los Angeles County. Local Cites where Mark Jordan photography studio services are offered are as an Aliso Viejo Photographer, Anaheim Photographer, Costa Mesa Photographer, Coto de Caza Photographer, Dana Point Photographer, Dove Canyon Photographer, Huntington Beach Photographer, Irvine Photographer, Ladera Ranch Photographer, Laguna Beach Photographer, Laguna Hills Photographer, Laguna Niguel Photographer, Lake Forest Photographer, Mission Viejo Photographer, Newport Beach Photographer, Northwood Photographer, Orange Photographer, Orange Park Acres Photographer, San Clemente Photographer, San Juan Capistrano Photographer, Santa Ana Photographer, Tustin Photographer, Villa Park Photographer, Westminster Photographer, Yorba Linda Photographer, Corona del Mar Photographer, Riverside Photographer, Temecula Photographer, Chino Hills Photographer, Loma Linda Photographer, Rancho Bernardo Photographer, Carlsbad Photographer, San Diego Photographer, Turtle Rock Photographer, Shady Canyon Photographer. Portrait Photographers everywhere (photographers in O.C. as well) are welcome to contact our family portrait studio for mentoring/guidance.