| from Melissa Hannigan |

“What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”…the words of this 1960’s hit song, sung by Jackie Deshannon (which I had to look up because I had no idea who originally sung it), have been stuck in my head lately. I think we can all agree that the world needs more love, now maybe more than ever. Just read the comments section of any news article, scroll social media, or turn on a news channel and you can see the desperate need for less hate and more love. 

It is overwhelming to think about just how much hate fills the world right now. And I know I am not the only one who desperately wants to change that, but just doesn’t know where to start. As I was praying about this very thing, the Lord reminded me of a quote by Mother Teresa beautifully hung in a friend’s house. “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I knew exactly where God wanted me to start. So as we enter the month of February what better time to focus on that very thing: loving one another. 

As a Christian, love should be the natural out flow of our lives, right? Jesus was the ultimate example of love. He lived a life of humility, serving, sacrificing, forgiving, and ultimately giving up his life because of his love for humanity and his desire to redeem. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life.” 

God is the essence of love. 

So as Christians we should be the best at loving others well, right? John 13:35 reminds us that it’s by our love that we should be recognized as followers of Jesus. But honestly too often, we get busy, irritable, self-focused and our homes can be characterized by things other than love. At least that’s true for me! So how do we bring love back to the center of our homes? 

An easy place to start focusing on this is found in the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind, it is not jealous and does not brag, and is not arrogant. Love does not seek its own or keep record of wrongs, but bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails.” (verses 4-7) This can seem like an impossible list to expect from ourselves, not to mention to expect from our children. But it doesn’t have to be. 

At the heart of all of the “love is statements” humility is found. This is the choice to put others’ needs ahead of our own; less of me and more of others. And that is something tangible, actionable. That is something we can put into practice and encourage in our homes right now, today. But what might that look like practically speaking?

For our family, from the time the kids were little, we repeated the importance of putting other’s first. Sometimes that looked like rewarding the child who willingly climbed into the back of the van and allowed his or her sibling to sit in the coveted middle row. Sometimes the child who gives up the last serving of Mac n cheese gets the first serving of dessert. I want them to know that we value putting others before ourselves. And we repeat often, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Matt 20:16). 

Of course, as the kids have gotten older we stopped giving a specific reward for putting others first and focused more on why they should want to serve others without expecting anything in return. I am so very thankful that we worked to instill the importance of serving and loving others as they were younger because that seed that was planted has bloomed into some pretty sweet fruit.

I see this fruit when my son chooses to serve his sisters by playing with them when he’d rather be playing on his xbox. I see it when my older two give up free time to serve in ministries at church. I am so thankful that they are beginning to understand that to be a Christian is to humbly love those around us by serving them and putting them before ourselves. 

Now please hear me when I say we are not a perfect family, not by any means! The kids still fight over toys. They still fight over who controls the TV remote and who sits where for dinner. We still lose our tempers and want our own ways. But when we see it happen we call it what it is, selfishness. We talk about how God calls us to be better, to love better, to ask for forgiveness, and try better next time. And I can’t tell you how many times I have had to apologize for being impatient and losing my temper. It’s a lot! But I want them to know that I am just as much of a sinner as they are and I need forgiveness too. 

I want to model to them what it looks like to try to be more like Jesus every day. And in order to do this, I have to walk closely with Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to guide each step I take. I have to spend time in His word and on my knees in prayer, otherwise this task of being like Jesus is impossible! It’s not easy to always make time for this and sometimes it takes planning and hard work but I can promise you that it is so worth it! They will follow what we do, not necessarily what we say. So we need to be great imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Great!

So are you known for your love for others? Does your family love one another well? Are there aspects of love that you’d like to do better? And remember we all have areas in we can grow. We all can do better! 

Maybe this week you want to focus on patience. Find verses about being patient and “catch” your kids when they show patience. Make sure you are demonstrating this as well and be willing to apologize when you fall short. 

Or maybe your family needs a refresher on serving one another. Memorizing scripture that emphasizes serving is a great way to begin. Romans 12:10 is a good one to start with and then make a game out of serving. Encourage your kids to be secret servants and do undercover acts of service for one another and outdo one another in showing honor! 

Or maybe you could focus on reminding your family just how much you love them. Kids who know they are loved develop the vital core need of belonging which Dr. Kathy talks about in her book Five to Thrive. (If you haven’t read this, you need to. It is so good!) February is the perfect month to focus on making sure your family knows how loved they are and that they belong!

Here’s another idea that several friends have done. For each day of the month of February you pick one thing you love about each member of the family and write that on sticky notes or heart shaped paper and put it on their bedroom door each morning to remind them how much they are loved. You could spend some time around the dinner table sharing things that you love about one another. Or you could write notes of encouragement and hide them under pillows. There are so many ways to express your love for the members of your family! Finally as a family you could brainstorm ways to serve your community, your church, or your neighbors. Doing service together is a great way to bond as a family and spread love! 

Ultimately I think we can all agree that there is a need for more love in this world! And the very best place to start is right where you are! Love your family well, teach your kids to love one another, and as a family serve those around you as a way to spread love. May we be known for our love for one another because He first loved us and we have plenty of love to share!

As a homeschool mom of four kids, Melissa Hannigan uses her background in child development and counseling to keep her family from going completely off the rails. Melissa discovered her passion for helping kids meet their fullest potential over 15 years ago. As a therapist, she has worked with children in head start, foster care, and in detention facilities to provide them the tools they need for success. Melissa has also served hundreds of young people through her local church. Her unique sense of humor, paired with a desire to make tough topics easy to talk about, makes her relatable to most parents struggling to keep their head above water in today’s cultural climate. Whether she’s serving the “Happy Hannigan’s” or the “Hot Mess Hannigan’s” (it depends on the day!) she does it alongside her best friend and partner in life, John. Melissa is an Associate with Celebrate Kids where she writes and speaks about a variety of topics.