A sense of God’s unconditional and lavish love for us is foundational to our spiritual formation. It is the fertile soil out of which our growth can take place. Today we welcome as guest writer, Richard Parrish, to share his story of learning to see himself as God’s beloved child.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …”
1 John 3:1 (NIV84)
When it occurred, I’m not fully aware. It’s not possible for me to pin point the day, time, or place when knowledge became an experienced reality. For me, the awareness emerged through a metamorphosis.
From my childhood, I was taught that God loved me. Songs, scriptures, and bible stories frequently reinforced the message. However, the facial expressions of those around me often sent conflicting messages – suggesting that my misbehavior could jeopardize God’s love for me – creating waves of frequency interference; confusing, tormenting signals that prevented the message of God’s love from getting through.
Oh, I wanted to believe God loved me. I needed to believe God loved me. But over time, my consistent inability to “measure up” to God’s standards (or the ideals of others) yielded a harvest of discouragement, doubt, and disbelief.
It became second nature to me. To turn frowns to smiles, I would have to act better, pray longer, work harder, give and do more, and say the “right things” (whether I believed them or not!). It was a noble task and worthy of my endeavor, so I thought. However…
Every attempt to earn acceptance only revealed my inadequacy. My strongest attempt was too weak. My deepest resolve lacked resources. My best efforts fell short. In time, the voice of doubt became louder than the voice of truth. The years of struggle to achieve love and acceptance left me miserably short.
Where does one go to receive love… unconditional, fully accepting, never-ending, totally encompassing love? What must one do to earn that kind of love?
What would it be like to fully believe – and receive – that message? How would our lives be re-arranged if somehow we would stop trying to gain the approval of God or others?
Can you imagine the freedom? Can you sense the release of stress? Can you allow yourself – for a moment – to think of what it would be like to be adored, cherished, and fully accepted by God?
Somewhere along the way, I’ve been able to ask myself those questions. I admit: there is a temptation for me to be lulled into a fantasy by reflecting on those questions. However, John stresses that God’s “lavishing love for us” is not fantasy… it is reality.
No attempt by others to encourage me to “measure up” will change the certainty that I’m God’s child! No effort on my part to strive harder or perform better will move God to love me more!
Though the temptation to “earn” love remains deep in me, John’s words give me courage to quit striving, and to crawl up on the lap of God allowing Him to hold me and to see His smile. Whether I feel like God’s child, or not… John reminds me: “And that IS who I am!
Am I driven to seek approval? Why?
What changes would take place if I were to cease trying to earn God’s love and man’s acceptance? List them.
Re-read John’s words. What stands out?
What is the one thing that could move God to love me more than He does?
What might happen if I fully receive God’s “lavishing love”? Will I? If not, why?
Richard Parrish is ordained clergy in the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is trained as a spiritual director through North Park University’s C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction in Chicago. His ministry, Music Serving the Word, exists to worship God through music and art forms that serve His Word.