Understanding who we are as individuals and being loved and valued by others surely are closely related. Because identity is shaped in some kind of community, the way in which a child is perceived, accepted, affirmed, and valued in the community is a significant influence in shaping identity. Children are born with immediate physiological needs. The manner and timeliness with which the surrounding family and community respond to those needs quickly communicates to the child how readily his or her needs are recognized and how valued the child is in the family.
The traditional spank on a newborn’s bottom initiates an immediate intake of the oxygen needed to survive as an individual beyond the first few minutes of life. How interesting that pain sometimes is used as the first action for the good of a child. I don’t know why a child gasps for air in response to pain or how a child knows to cry upon the infliction of pain; but the child has natural instincts for breathing, suckling, excreting waste, and sleeping that immediately engage and quickly advance to Maslow’s safety needs for secure and ongoing attention to these physiological needs. That sense of safety is the foundation for developing a sense of being important, valued, and loved.
Children tend to adapt to whatever love or neglect is offered them, though the signs of neglect often are fully evidenced in their behavior. As self-identity develops more fully in adolescence, however, sensitivity to one’s value and worth in the eyes of others increases dramatically. If one’s value, love, and acceptance have not been securely experienced and fully recognized in childhood, the onset of puberty accentuates and complicates the need for love and a sense of self-worth.
Love lies at the center of the Christian gospel. In the “Great Commandment,” loving self is a foundation for loving God and loving other people. Making disciples will be impeded if we do not help children, adolescents, and adults find value and worth in themselves. The unselfishness exhibited in Christlikeness will never be possible if the gnawing need for love is not satiated. The themes in row 3 of the “Making Disciples” chart suggest ways in which the Christian community can address the need for being loved, valued, and cherished.