The Blessing - 2

Mark 10:13-16

Last week we began a short series on parenting, based on the principles in the book The Gift of the Blessing.

And we began by looking at the OT practice of the blessing that a father would bestow on his children, and then considered how important that same kind of blessing is today – not just as a one-time event, but as an on-going, life-long commitment to our children to communicate our love and support for them. And I talked about how important that was to our children’s future, and how when that blessing is withheld, it leads to all kinds of difficulties as an adult.

That blessing, when communicated often and sincerely, frees our children to live lives that aren’t tied to unresolved issues with their childhood, where love was conditional and approval was based on performance. When we give our children the blessing, it frees them to be fully adults and see God’s love in their lives through the lens of grace.

That blessing affirms our children in countless way, but we noticed these four specifically last week: It affirms who you are and whose you are. It gives meaning and purpose in life. It extends God’s protective arms around you. And it marks those significant milestones in our life.

There are five elements of the blessing: A parent’s blessing begins with meaningful touch. It continues with a spoken message of high value, a message that pictures a special future for the individual being blessed, and one that is based on an active commitment to see the blessing come to pass.

This morning, we’ll focus on the first three of those elements and then finish next week with the final two.

The blessing begins with meaningful touch.

In the scriptures, touch played an important part in the bestowal of the family blessing. When Isaac blessed Jacob, he said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” Isaac isn’t giving his son an obligatory pat on the back, but a meaningful embrace that communicates acceptance and love. When Israel blessed his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim, Genesis 48 says, Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. And then, we are told, Israel placed his hands on the boy’s heads and blessed them.

Not a lot in our societal changes have been good, but one thing I am glad to see is a generation of fathers who aren’t afraid to hug their children. Men from my father’s generation and earlier were taught that hugging their children, especially their sons, was bad and should be avoided. And so our fathers didn’t hug us or touch us (except in anger) and for a lot of kids, they would act badly in spite of the consequences just to get the attention of their fathers.

I am so glad to see my son and my son-in-law hugging their kids and pulling them into their laps to give them attention. And our kids need hugging long after they are too big for our laps. Teenagers need hugging (as much as they might protest, they still need it). Thirty year-olds need hugging. Children of all ages need meaningful touch. We never get too old to need hugging.

But it’s never too late. You might never have been a hugger. My dad wasn’t. In fact, I never saw my dad even hug my mom or ever heard him say “I love you.” – it just wasn’t in his nature. When I became a Christian at the age of 16, I started to see the world differently, and saw my relationship with my dad through different eyes. At night, my mom would always hug me goodnight, but my dad would sit over in his corner of the kitchen at the bar. I decided I was going to change him, and so sometime during my sixteenth year, I started going over to him and hugging him and telling him I loved him before I headed to bed at night. He would kind of stiffen up and say, “you too.” He must have wondered what alien creature had taken over his son’s body.

Don’t get me wrong, he was a good father, but his generation of men were taught that emotions and affection weren’t manly and shouldn’t be allowed to show. And so it took some relearning for me to be a different kind of dad than my father was.

Now, let me clarify something. When I say “meaningful touch” I’m not talking about some formal ritual of laying hands on your children’s heads, though there is certainly a time and a place for that. But I’m talking about intentional, physical contact in which you communicate loving warmth. Yes, hugs are important – frequent and intentional. But also the brief, momentary hand around the shoulder, a kiss on the forehead, a hand around the face, a pat on the arm. That intentional you-know-I’m-thinking-about-you kind of touch.

It was from a study out of UCLA that those statistics came that you’ve heard before (because I’ve mentioned them before): we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 a day for maintenance, and 12 a day for growth.

The physical benefits of touch have been demonstrated over and over through numerous scientific studies documenting the power of touch to bring healing, and freedom from pain, and lower blood pressure and increase lifespan. They’ve demonstrated it with newborn babies and people in nursing homes and even Alzheimer patients.

So, when you impart meaningful touch there are incredible physical benefits that accompany that touch. But even more than that are the relational benefits. The feeling of affirmation and acceptance and belonging that go with touch are undeniable. When you touch someone as you are speaking with them, there is a connection that communicates a caring bond that accentuates the words you speak and increases the authenticity of those words.

If we want a model of meaningful touch, we need only look to Jesus. Think how often and how powerfully he touched people. He touched lepers and blind men and those who were sick and those who were hopeless. One of the most amazing stories is in Mark 10: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these… And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mk 10:13-14,16)

Jesus was not simply communicating a spiritual lesson to the crowds, he was demonstrating his genuine love and care for these children as he gathered them in his arms and blessed them.

Our meaningful touch has just as powerful an effect on our children, and really, for every person in our lives when we reach out with the touch that blesses.

The second element of the blessing is spoken words. Words have incredible power either to build up or to tear down. We can empower someone with our words or we can crush them. This is particularly true when in comes to giving the blessing to our children.

I’m pretty sure you can remember specific words of praise that your parents spoke to you years ago, or you can remember negative words of criticism even more vividly. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the blessing hinges on spoken words. Abraham spoke a blessing to Isaac. Isaac spoke it to his son Jacob. Jacob spoke the blessing to his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. You remember last week how Esau rushed in to bring his meal of wild game to his father, Isaac, so he could finally hear his blessing. In Scriptures, a blessing is not a blessing unless it is spoken.

If you are a parent, your children desperately need to hear a spoken blessing from you. If you are married, your wife or husband needs to hear words of love and acceptance on a regular basis. Someone this week at work, someone here this morning needs to hear a word of encouragement that will carry them through the day, maybe even the week.

Throughout the Scriptures, we see the power and importance of spoken words. In the very beginning, God “spoke” the world into existence. When he sent his son to communicate his love and complete his plan for our salvation, it was his Word which “become flesh and dwelt among us.” God has always been a God who communicates his blessings through spoken words.

In the NT, the letter of James uses three images to describe the power of our words. In the first, he says our words are like a bit in the mouth of a horse. With that tiny piece of metal you can direct this large, powerful animal. Second, our words are like the rudder of a ship. Such a small piece of wood steers the course of a large ocean going vessel. In the same way our words can guide and direct our children’s lives, giving them direction and encouragement. But then James uses the image of a fire and the small spark that it takes to set a forest ablaze or destroy the course of a life.

Our words can either be used to build up or tear down, but they will have lifelong consequences. When we use our words intentionally and positively, we can bestow a blessing on our children that will guide them into a life that will bring joy and fruitfulness to them and to generations beyond them.

The third element of the blessing adds to that use of words to bless. Those words must help our children feel their high value in life. And I’m not talking about making sure everyone’s a winner and everyone gets a trophy at the end of their soccer season. In fact, those kinds of artificial honor serve to destroy a sense of accomplishment and worth. Why work hard when everyone gets the same reward? Honoring everyone ends up honoring no one.

We need to value and honor our kids regardless of their accomplishments. Yes, it’s nice to get all A’s and finish first in a competition, but it’s just as important to teach our kids that their value isn’t based on being the best – that their worth is a part of who they are – who God created them to be. We can impart high value even when our kids lose and fail, because that’s a part of life and they need to be able to respond appropriately in those situations and realize our love, and God’s love isn’t conditioned on their being winners. Our love for them is unconditional. Their value isn’t based on accomplishment but on relationship.

Paul wrote about the importance of our words in Ephesians 4:29, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. I can’t help but put those words into the context of our family relationships and think about how my words affect my wife and my children. Are my words wholesome? In other words, do they create wholeness and lead to maturity, or do they tear down and chip away at their self-esteem? Do my words take into account their needs, and do I use those words to bring benefit – or to use our key word here – do they bring blessing?

The truth is, most parents genuinely love their children and want the best for them. However, when it comes to speaking words of love and acceptance – words of blessing – they are up against an even more formidable foe than the temptation to speak negative words. It is the enemy of time. We are too busy – busy doing good things. We’re on the run going in three different directions trying to keep our kids involved and on time in five different activities at once. And in the process, the blessing is never spoken. Our words are functional but not important. We look for the right moment, but it never comes.

And so, the father tries to corner his son to communicate how he feels about him before he goes away to college, but now his son is too busy to listen. A mother tries to communicate a spoken blessing to her daughter in the bride’s room just before the wedding, but the photographer has to take her away to get that perfect shot.

And if you waited until those last moments, you’ve waited too late. Spoken words of blessing should start in the delivery room and continue throughout life. We can’t take the attitude: “They know I love them and that they’re special without my having to say it.” Really? Tell that to all the adults who wish they had heard a word of affirmation and acceptance spoken just once as they were growing up, but all they heard was “don’t be late, try harder, you messed up again, what am I going to do with you?”

If you will regularly and intentionally take a few moments with each of your children and communicate your unconditional love and acceptance and your joy that they are your child, you will have given them a gift that they will treasure longer than anything else you could ever buy.

We all need the blessing in our lives. And like I said last week, it’s never too late to start. If you have a grown child, give them a call this afternoon and tell them how much you love them and how you thank God that they are your child. How proud you are of who they are and what joy they bring to your life. Those words could change their life, they could change your relationship, they could change your life.