These days, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what love is.
This four-letter word is used to describe so many things, including how we feel about our parents, our friends, our fur babies, our sports teams and even our favorite foods – I LOVE French fries!
For young people immersed in today's hookup culture, the meaning of love is often warped and distorted. Some equate love to sex, even when their sexual partners are essentially strangers or random social media “friends." There seems to be a complete lack of clarity and understanding as to what true, genuine human love is and what it looks like.
At Boys Town, many of our kids have been victimized by adults who used love as a weapon to abuse, manipulate and control them. As a result, we facilitate a lot of counseling, teaching and modeling to help them see and understand what constitutes a loving relationship.
Our philosophy is rooted in the belief that, to truly love a child, you must really know the child. That is why we tell our kids that adults who are authentically loving will do these three things:
- Loving adults will know you well. Boys Town Family-Teachers®, Assistant Family-Teachers® and direct-care staff work hard to know our kids, their experiences and their hopes for the future. They build deep relationships that allow them to discover the behavioral and emotional skills each child needs to heal from past hurt and find success. All Boys Town kids are unique, and the care and treatment they receive reflects their individual needs.
- Loving adults see the best in you. Father Flanagan taught the world an important lesson: “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking." His words echo with truth today and continue to guide our work. It's not always easy to see the best in kids, especially when they are angry and acting out. When kids are “being bad," adults are quick to notice. If you filled a room with a thousand kids, most adults would have no problem spotting the few who were misbehaving and describing their antics in detail. However, it requires training and practice to see and accurately describe the good behaviors those children also displayed. Only when adults see and acknowledge a child's positive behaviors can adults be good examples of true love.
- Loving adults hold you accountable. When you really know kids and see the best in them, it follows that you want them to live up to their potential. That requires holding them accountable. When we see a child who is artistically talented, the loving thing to do is to encourage that talent so he can become the artist he is meant to be. When we see a child can behave well some of the time, we build on those positive moments and teach skills that will help her behave better a lot of the time. This is where many adults fail in their relationships with kids. Holding kids accountable is hard. It requires energy, strength and a deep desire to see kids become the people they are meant to be. If you don't hold them responsible for their actions, you're not really loving them. That doesn't mean, however, that you chain them to their bad behaviors and “make them pay" forever. Boys Town is all about second chances. When kids fail, they apologize and work to do better. The behavioral and ethical standards we have for our kids stay the same because we love them enough to want them to be their best selves, to strive toward excellence, not perfection.
The cool thing about human love is that it is a great way to learn about Divine love, or God's love. God's love also has three truths:
- God knows us. In Psalm 139, we are reminded that God knows us better than any human ever will. Since the day we were conceived in our Mother's womb, God has seen everything we've ever done, said or thought; even those that we've so carefully hidden from others. Despite seeing everything, God still loves us.
- God sees the best in us. Because God worked with our parents to create us, God can clearly see all that is good in us. That's because God put it there! Everything that is good within us reflects God's best qualities: intelligence, compassion, strength, beauty and even love. God gives us these gifts so that we can give them back to the world. Each of us is a unique combination of some of God's best qualities that the world desperately needs right now.
- God holds us accountable. If you read the teachings of any religion, you will be called to aspire to the highest standard of behavior. The Ten Commandments, Jesus' command to love our enemies, and the Buddhist call to enlightenment all contain high standards that are tough to reach. Of course, God forgives us when we fall short but that doesn't change the standards that are expected of us.
As we celebrate and honor love this month, let us all be mindful of its true meaning and power. With all the fear, divisiveness and isolation experienced by so many this past year, the most important thing we can do for our children and our community is to teach and show love… love that is true, genuine, forgiving, powerful and transformative.
God's blessings,Fr. Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director
PS… If your heart is willing, please extend your love to the many hurting children and families in our care by sending us your prayers and making a donation. With your love and God's grace, we can save more children, heal more families, and create a more hopeful world. Thank you!