From WH Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, a passage that I’m sure any parent will be able to identify with:
Love proceeds by no assured programme. In the case of children a parent is peculiarly aware that each step of love is a step of risk; and that each step taken generates the need for another and equally precarious step. In each word of encouragement lies the danger of creating over-confidence; in each restraint the danger of destroying confidence.
A risk is taken when the child is allowed to ride his bicycle on the road: when he returns in pride and confidence, the gain has justified the risk. But now there is a new danger of over-confidence, and the child must be warned – yet not so severely that his new-found confidence is destroyed.
In each expression of love to a child lies the danger that it will be exploited and that the child will be “spoiled” by taking as a right that which should be received as a gift: in each withholding of love’s expression lies the danger of misunderstanding – the danger that that which was meant to teach will serve only to embitter and estrange.
A happy family life is neither a static situation nor a smooth and direct progression: it is an angular progress, the endless improvisation of love to correct that which it has itself created. Parents will testify that their equal love for two children must express itself in quite different ways; and that what they have learned in bringing up the elder can be no programme for bringing up the younger. The care of children teaches us that the resolute and unfailing will of love becomes active in improvised and ever-precarious endeavour.
The late Revd Vanstone’s book is far from perfect – I suspect I won’t entirely agree with where he is taking things theologically – but equally his insights into the nature of love, such as that set out above, encourage me to persevere, and to hope that the result is an enriching of my understanding of the love of God (which can so easily be reduced to something rather clinical and mechanical).