This morning, my 9-year-old son came to me in the kitchen before school and confessed solemnly that he didn’t feel loved. Ugh. No words a parent wants to hear, especially not one who, like me, can’t imagine loving my kids more than I do. Yet, I knew in the 10 minutes before he left for school that I had to do my best to connect with his heart.

I told him I understood, and that, I too, have often felt unloved even in my very home. I am certain every one of my family members have felt the same way at some point. It is the great struggle of the Christian life to walk in love in this fallen, sinful world. And then an analogy came to my heart to share. I don’t recall if I’ve heard this before somewhere else, but I know in the moment only God could have brought it to me so quickly. (I hadn’t even had my coffee yet!)

I asked him what his favorite cake is. My creative little guy immediately said, “chocolate banana.” Yum, I agreed.

Knowing he also likes icing, I asked, “OK, so how would you feel if I gave you an entire bowl of icing to eat in the next 10 minutes before school?” At first, his eyes lit up, and then he started to think a bit more and he asked, “No cake?”

“Right. No cake, just a big bowl of icing.”

His expression became a little more hesitant and he said, “Well it would be awesome, at first. And then maybe it would get to be a little, eh, too much or something… without the cake.”

“So if you had the cake, you could really enjoy the icing too, then right?”

“Oh definitely! I’d eat the whole thing!”

I explained that it took me a long time (33 years to be exact) to realize that God’s love was like the cake, and that love from people was like the icing. I could get as much icing as I wanted, but it wouldn’t be satisfying after a while and it would even become distasteful just on its own. But if the cake was really good and I was consumed with it — well, I might not even need the icing, or much of it. I would just enjoy the cake. Or I would enjoy them both together. His eyes began to brighten again.

I asked my son’s forgiveness for however I had failed in showing him God’s love through my actions recently. (The truth is, it’s been a rough few days.) I reminded him that I love him as much as I possibly can, but that my love will always be the icing. Instead, he’s got to consume and be consumed by the cake (God’s love and His Word) to enjoy what I can offer in my limited abilities.

Having extended forgiveness to me (and enjoying a conversation about cake and icing), my son went off to school with joy back in his young heart. Lord, please help all my sons to receive and retain this message much earlier in their young lives than it took their mama.