My Isaiah really likes school and has made the transition to a new school look like a cake walk. He typically bounces the whole way home every afternoon and has lots of smiles as he tells us all about his day.
He does, however, have days from time to time when he comes home upset about something…someone teased him or he didn’t have enough time to finish his lunch or he didn’t understand something in math class or he couldn’t play with the blocks at recess. And one day last week he came home particularly bummed out.
I know my boy and I know when he’s trying to bravely hold back tears. He gives quick answers to questions, makes his eye contact very brief, sticks his tongue in his cheek, and shrugs his shoulders. This particular afternoon, as he told me no one wanted to sit with him at lunch, I saw the eyes dart, the tongue hide, and the shoulders shrug.
I also happen to know that my boy is a lot like his mama…who is a lot like her mama…who is a lot like her mama…who could, if left unbridled, have the tendency to let one yucky circumstance bring up ALL of the other recent yucky circumstances and turn into one. hot. mess.
Seeing the eruption ready to happen, I asked him to sit with me and urged him to talk. He curled up on my lap on that same brown recliner where I had spent hours nursing him as an infant and holding him when he just wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. Now my big 6 year old boy, with tears no longer able to stay pent up in his big blue eyes, told me that sometimes he gets picked on…he couldn’t find anyone to play with at recess either…so he had to sit and draw by himself. And just like in those “first-time-mama-how-do-I-get-him-to-stop-crying” moments years ago in that old recliner, I simply held my baby boy close.
My heart broke and my mama bear instincts kicked in full gear. I’ll admit it…my knee-jerk reaction was “That’s it. We’re homeschooling.” But though God certainly may call us to do that sometime further down the road, for that particular day, I knew it wasn’t the answer. I knew this was what my husband and I had been consistently praying for – yet another opportunity to preach the Gospel to our boy and teach him to preach the same Gospel to himself.
We went back over recent family devotions and talked about letting God’s incredible love for us penetrate so deeply in our hearts that it doesn’t matter so much when other people don’t like us. A love that stopped at nothing, even the death of His Son, to win us back and bring us to Him.
But then he pulled out the big guns.
“I tried to show them my drawings and they didn’t like them. I just want them to tell me I’m a good artist. I just want them to say I’m good at drawing. I just want them to love me.”
And I heard way too much of myself in his disappointed cries.
I just want someone to notice my…
I just wish someone would tell me I’m good at…
I just want them to thank me for…
I just want to feel as valuable as…
I just want to know they love me and know that I’m worthy of it…
And as I gently preached the Gospel to my 6 year old, this 31 year old mama had to preach the Gospel, once again, to herself. I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me of my fleshly struggle of treasuring the approval and praise of others over the treasure of the One Who created me to show His worth and His glory and His great love for those He died to save.
Oh, how quickly I can get discouraged or distracted or disheartened when I don’t have the approval and praise of others. When my worth is more determined by pats on the back I get or the “likes” I can count. When my acceptance is based on people rather than on the God of the Universe.
J.D. Greear said, “It’s one thing to know that God has accepted you fully in Christ; it’s another thing for that to become the weightiest and most defining reality in your life.”
And something that we give weight to becomes something that we love…and something that we love becomes something that we ascribe worth to…and something we ascribe worth to ultimately becomes something that we worship.
So when we start the “I just wanted them to…”, what are our hearts revealing we’re actually worshipping? And how silly of us to even consider it.
“And on and on it goes…everything the world has to offer, God is better and more abiding. There is no comparison. God wins, every time.”
– John Piper
And this God? This God of the universe that knows my name (Isaiah 43:1) and keeps my tears (Psalm 56:8) and numbers the very hairs on my head (Luke 12:7) chose to place His love on me. Not because I was worthy…but because He is just that good.
“…the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession…
It was not because you were more in number…that the Lord set His love on you…
But it is because the Lord loves you…
Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him…”
– from Deuteronomy 7
God chose Israel as His people NOT because they were many in number (because they weren’t), or because they had so much to offer Him (because they didn’t), or because they obeyed Him perfectly all of the time (because they couldn’t). He loved them because he chose to put value on them. He loved them just because He loved them.
And He did the same for me…
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
– Ephesians 2:4-9
i am approved and accepted by the God of the Universe. Not because of anything I’ve done or am good at, but because of the Father’s great love and the redeeming work of His Son. What a difference it makes for my heart when I cling to this truth! No matter what I’m doing, how I’m serving, or what I’m trying, if my motivation is simply a response to the incredible love that’s been set on me, the approval or thanks or affirmation of others doesn’t matter so much. I can be free from insecurity because I know I’m already loved and accepted…and at the same time, I can be free from arrogance and pride because I know that love and acceptance was not given because I was worthy of any of it on my own.
A few days after that little episode, Isaiah and I attended our first Mother/Son Sweetheart Dance at his elementary school. We got dressed up and put on our dancing shoes. We ate pizza and dipped goodies in the chocolate fountain. They took our picture and gave me a flower. And we danced. Oh, did we dance.
But when we first walked into the gymnasium, though music was playing, no one was really dancing. Elementary aged boys were running in circles, chasing each other, or wrestling on the floor…and their moms were around the perimeter of the room talking with each other or looking down at their smart phones.
I waited to see what my boy would do…and without hesitation, he grabbed my hand and started dancing. Right there in the middle of the dance floor. All by ourselves.
As my eyes darted around to check our surroundings, I felt my own insecurities creep in.
Are they watching us? Am I over-dressed? Under-dressed? Do I look like a big goof? Do they think I’m a good mom or just a weird one? Are we even supposed to be out here?!
But then I looked down at my boys face. A little face lit up with a huge grin, dancing like no one was watching.
He didn’t care what the other kids were doing. He wasn’t looking to see if they were watching him. It didn’t matter what he was wearing or if they approved of his dance moves or even if they liked him.
All that mattered in that moment was that he was dancing. And not just that, but he was dancing with his mom. It was my hand he was holding, my face he squished his cheek up against, my eyes and smile he sought for approval.
But he didn’t even seem worried about that. He knew I already loved him…not because he was a good dancer…or a good artist, good student, good brother, or good kid in general. He knew I loved him just because I loved him. Because he was mine. And with that confidence, security, and approval, my boy danced like nothing else mattered.
Isaiah did find his buddies later and cut a pretty impressive rug with a pile of 1st grade boys…but I’ll never forget those first few minutes on the dance floor…when God once again used my sweet boy to speak truth to my distracted heart.
That God of mine that chose me, loves me, and accepts me without condition…
So that I can dance like no one’s watching.
“The really cool thing about God’s love is you don’t have to work hard to keep it. That should make you want to shout, ‘Yippee!’…
The truth is our hearts won’t be happy with anyone’s love but God’s. Until we can be happy with God’s love, we will always want more and more people to love us. Even when we think that our friends’ love is the most important, God’s love really is, because it doesn’t change. He just loves you that much. He is just that kind, and He is just that good.”
– Jessica Thompson (Exploring Grace Together: Devotionals For the Family)