“Life is like a hurricane, here in Duckburg,” is the beginning line of the theme song to the best cartoon from my childhood, Duck Tales (woo-oo). This song echoes in my head at some point each week as I’m trying to put my children to sleep. When one child needs to go to bed, there is a whirlwind of activities, emotions and negotiations that’s hard to imagine, and in my house with four kids under eight, it can be quite an adventure.
Clean up, diaper changes, teeth brushing, milk before bed, wardrobe changes, reading time and fighting off the thousands of ways these little people have creatively invented to delay the inevitable is a nightly occurrence. Couple all of this with the fatigue of a long day and the anticipation of getting to sit without doing anything and you start to get the idea. A week ago, just like the thousands of times before, we began our night time routine. As usual, my boys were engaged in their delay tactics, and wrongly, I used my size and my voice to hurry the process. Roaring at them, I commanded their unconditional obedience to get into bed. Almost immediately, I realized I was at fault. What’s the bigger offense, their getting ready at a molasses pace or my unloving response?
After I apologized to my boys and they were finally in bed, I picked up the book I’m currently working through, Jacques Ellul’s The Ethics of Freedom. My choice to give in to my anger just before served as an object lesson for what I read. “Love does not give us the content of action but its manner.” The rest of the week wasn’t any easier. My offspring, acting like the children they are, continued to resist retiring for the evening as if it were a plague, but my eyes were now opened to a wonderful truth.
Love is not an action, it’s the quality of an action. There is no particularly loving act, there are only acts that we do in a loving way. To love my children at their night time routine, then, meant doing the exact same behaviors in a way that expresses my affection for them. What I found is when I intentionally tried to lovingly brush their teeth or lovingly read them a story, I slowed down, was present in the moment and enjoyed the privilege of being with them. We all want to be loving people, and I think we search for ways to love, as if there was a specific action that was love, but love more than anything infuses what we are already doing with a unmistakable quality. It saturates even the most mundane experience with significance and worth.