Faith, life, Parenting, Spiritual Encouragement
Comments 12

When Mother-Love is Not Enough {2 Baby Steps to Love Your Child’s Soul}

“Soul love is the soul of all love.” -John Charles Ryle

My mother-love is not enough.

It comes up short like a too-small quilt, leaving parts exposed. Although I try and tuck and stretch it so, my mother-love, my parent-love is shy of covering them. My children, those most precious souls, walk around with naked parts. Vulnerable.

And that’s okay.

My tent of mother-love is stretched taught and tied down to spikes pounded deep into the soil of truth, but my kids quickly outgrow its covering. Like a newborn kicks against tight swaddling, my children need to kick and punch and build muscle, and they cannot be carried in my arms. I  have to set them down on hard ground. They have to walk, run, jump, explore and play, trip, fall, get up again.

They have to live. And I have to love their souls enough to let them.


J.C.Ryle goes on to say to parents, ask this question at every turn, “How will this affect their souls? That is the mighty question.”


Soul love requires that I roll up the tent of parental love and let the risk-taking begin.

Soul love asks me to allow the world to rub up against them, caress them, push them around, take advantage of them, woo them, mislead them, reject them. Soul love requires me to allow the church to do the same. Soul love requires woundedness, brokenness, confusion to become part of the fabric of our reality because recognizing their need for salvation is more important than their feeling comfort and security.

Because boy bands and youth camp retreat speakers sometimes preach the same message and sing the same song: Feel it now, feel it strong, ride the tide of this energy, feel the love, have the experience. But sadly, the copulation of experience leaves deep wounds.

Soul love wipes the tears, cleanses wounds, applies poultices of forgiveness and asks the mighty question, “How will this affect their souls?”

And parent love whispers in tandem, “How can I help?”

How can I take these experiences of life, these first steps into emotional and spiritual formation and help the Lover of their souls knead truth and grace into hearts? How can I help them see the Love of Christ in the pathways and milestones of their lives? How can I help lead them to the great Soul Lover?

The first steps are always the hardest.

One, be the gatekeeper of their souls. Guard them with vigilance.

Does this mean no Taylor Swift, no dance classes, no “questionable friends”, no potentially charismatic, over-the-top youth retreats?

No. Not at all.

This means letting them take reasonable steps beyond the parent-love tent and remain willing, at all times to use truth, grace and the magnificent soul-love to bring redemption to their experiences. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation {2 Corinthians 5:18-19}, to bring together of all things under the brilliant light of the absolute truth of God’s Word.

We guard their souls by trusting God with them. God’s tent knows no limits — his grace stretches over all of us as a great tent of salvation, and the nails pounded deep are nails of the suffering of Christ pushed deep into the soil of truth.

To be gatekeepers, we can’t rely on feeling or opinion or parenting trends–but on undeniable soul-loving truth. Parents, push deep into that soil, grow roots strong so that your guarding is not an affair of grasping and struggling, over-reacting to every misstep or founded in fear of what other’s might be thinking. Remember, deep roots make strong trees.

Two, teach them God’s truth.

Transplant their tiny seedling roots into Scripture-goodness and pat them securely into the promises of God’s Word.

“You need not shrink from bringing any doctrine before them. You need not fancy that the leading doctrines of Christianity are things which children cannot understand. Children understand far more of the Bible than we are apt to suppose. Tell them of sin, its guilt, its consequences, its power, its vileness: you will find they can comprehend something of this. Tell them of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work for our salvation, —the atonement, the cross, the blood, the sacrifice, the intercession: you will discover there is something not beyond them in all this.

Tell them of the work of the Holy Spirit in man’s heart, how He changes, and renews, and sanctifies, and purifies: you will soon see they can go along with you in some measure in this. In short, I suspect we have no idea how much a little child can take in of the length and breadth of the glorious gospel. They see far more of these things than we suppose.

Fill their minds with Scripture. Let the Word dwell in them richly. Give them the Bible, the whole Bible, even while they are young.”

– J.C. Ryle, The Duty of Parents

These two baby steps of soul-loving make a good start in the right direction. They are steps of faith, which is a gift, they are steps with the Spirit, which is a discipline, and they are steps that lead to life.



My love gets all tangled up with soul-loving, especially when it comes to my kids (or people I’ve loved and discipled in truth along the way). I have to intentionally disengage my love and reconnect to them with God’s perfect soul-love.

Do you struggle with this, too? How do you face the fear of the possibility of wounding — spiritual abuse, rejection, etc.– and trust God to redeem all with his great tent of grace and love?





  1. Lovely. I especially love the opening line: It comes up short like a too-small quilt, leaving parts exposed.

  2. pure beauty in your words. to be the gatekeepers for our children, what a precise picture. it allows us to watch and protect and move in when necessary. and to teach truth. love this! 🙂

    • teaching truth requires diligence — and parenting character instead of modifying behavior is quite the task, but I’m finding God’s Spirit meets me and helps me parent his way and not just to accomplish my agenda. Such a stretching endeavor –thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, too — Aly

  3. YES THIS: “Second is teach them that truth. Transplant their tiny seedling roots into Scripture goodness and pat them securely into the promises of God’s Word:”

    Oh that this be my prayer, that I train them up securely with Scriptures!

    • I prayed that you will! It is an amazing thing to watch you own children choose Christ, to love his word and be changed by it. An amazing blessing!

  4. soul love is about risk taking…that is for sure…really enjoyed your thoughts…two nice kernals…the gatekeeper and planting that firm foundation….

  5. So much wisdom and truth here. “How will this affect their souls?” Great question. And I also see how our parenting is about relationship, not rules… it’s about the grounding, not protecting.
    It is sometimes hard… especially when you bring up “spiritual abuse”. It’s a question I’m still trying to answer. Much is out of my hands, but while they are with me, I’m still learning to let that “soul-love”, God’s more perfect, covering love, overcome my “mother-love”. A thoughtful, beautiful post.

    • Thank you — I don’t know about your experience, but the hurt and confusion received by the hand of the church or religion or leadership, well, it’s so much more confusing! We tend to believe that it shouldn’t happen at all in God’s family, but it does and the wounds are deeper somehow. Planting them deeply into the soil of scripture, not just experience, does provide a greater strength that will help them persevere. Thanks for taking part in a discussion about this 🙂 Aly

  6. I know by experience it’s easier said than done. My wife seems to be better at it than me, thank God literally. It is a life time off perseverance in order to pull it off. Now, even in early adult years for my older two, it’s different and in some ways even more difficult. I’ll keep praying and trusting. Nice job.

  7. I agree with Floyd. Parenting adult “children” is THEE hardest parenting task I’ve ever been assigned. It makes parenting the first 18 years of their lives pale in comparison. A “too-small quilt leaving parts exposed”? Honey, more like “they’ve made their bed and now they have to lay in it”. Brutal for moms and dads. But that’s perhaps when we finally realize WE are NOT gods over our children’s salvation. God, alone, is God. And either we trust him with our children (no matter how old they are). Or we don’t. Sobering come-to-Jesus for all us aging parents.

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