Holding onto a Strawberry Shortcake book, little sister crawls up on Mama's lap and snuggles in close. Across the room Elijah notices. A look of betrayal, fear and horror crosses his face and he fights the urge to cry.
Holding back his tears, he rushes to mommy's side. He insists that little sister only get one book. Just one. No more.
Mama invites him to sit up on her lap too, but that would be giving up half of what rightfully belongs to him. No. He will wait. He tries his best to wait patiently for the book to end.
He fidgets. He moans. He sighs.
He slumps face first on the floor.
He starts to whine,
then full on rage.
Like a jilted lover, his jealousy comes from a deep desire to love and be loved...and it is fueled by fear of losing what he had. Fear of losing his position as beloved son.
It's just too much for his little scarred heart to bear.
Desperate, he begins to grab, pull, claw, flop and wail.
What began as a spark of envy, fans into a full on epic life or death battle.
A similar episode can be sparked by a simple hug, a kiss, or Mommy helping little sister put on her pajamas. Sometimes he has the fortitude to contain the misery, sometimes it all comes rushing out. If Mama kisses little sister, she'd better give Elijah one too. If little sister gets a kind word, she'd better reassure Elijah too. He's keeping track.
When Mama finishes the second book (after offering to share her lap many times) she speaks firmly to her son letting him know that he needs to stop this behavior if he wants to have a story too. She reminds him how much he is loved...even while he continues to rage.
Minutes later he is snuggled in on Mommy's lap weeping his remorseful "sorry Mama" "Sorry chair" "Sorry Cece" Sorry book".
He is sorry. So terribly, horribly guilt ridden. Immobilized with shame, and fear that he will be found out, that others will know. They will know the beast of insecurity that he keeps hidden inside. He is terrified he has crossed the line and hit a point of no return.
For the next few hours his guilt and fear will motivate him to perform. He will show off every skill he has mastered. He counts to 10. He cleans up. He scrubs the floor with a rag he happens to find..then the wall. He works to prove that he is worthy to be loved. He works to earn what he fears he may have lost. He reminds me of all the wonderful things he has done, and is doing, while at the same time pointing out the fact that little sister isn't keeping up.
He is pleased with himself, but still afraid.
This is a cycle repeated over and over and over by a little boy who is filled with fear. We assure him of our unconditional, forever, love at regular intervals every single day...but he doesn't yet "get it". Our love is still something he has to fret over, fight for, and earn.
As I watch my son go through this cycle of insecurity, it strikes me as a greater spiritual truth.
So why are so many Christians's lives stuck in this same pattern?
Do we resemble children who are secure, confident, and resting peacefully in the Father's love, or are we always watching for ways that others might threaten our position in the family?
Church, do you see it?
When someone succeeds, is thriving, or receives a gift that you desire (or that is different from yours) does it positively eat you up inside? Do you feel it somehow takes away from you? Do you make yourself feel better by undermining it, making excuses, or sabotaging someone else?
Do you carry a smug "sour grapes" attitude? "I didn't want to read that book anyway..." "I bet it's a sucky book"
How about offense? Do you feel that gut rotting, seething sense of being offended every time someone doesn't personally acknowledge or validate you?
Fear breeds loathing and envy.
Insecurity produces Christians who compete with each other and cut each other down, instead of cheer each other on toward holiness.
Security is born out of assurance.
Religion leads to either pride or despair...or cycles of both.
Religion tells us that we need to...
work for validation.
strive for acceptance.
prove we are worthy to be loved.
Free grace, a one way love poured out on sinners, is just too risky. Too scary. We would rather earn God's pleasure by putting our fear to work. We want something we can calculate, control, and keep track of, like a resume of good deeds that we hope will tip the balance, and move the scales to our favor.
When Elijah goes into "look how good I am" mode it doesn't make me think
"wow look at all he can do. I'm sure glad I have him on my team!".
It makes me sad.
It breaks my heart because I know he doesn't get it yet.
He is not yet secure in this, one way, unconditional love that brought him into our family. I shower him with reassurance, encourage him, remind him how much he's loved and adored, and prove it daily by my care of him....but sometimes he's so busy trying to earn it himself, that he just doesn't hear.
Little by little he is making strides. Month after month he is showing more signs of peace, confidence, and assurance.
Here's the thing: God changes, encourages, and motivates us not by fear of losing our sonship, but by the security of His love.
This is one of the things that makes the *gospel* different and distinct from all religions. We are not driven into action by a fear based system of rules and requirements that will earn our way to God.
Until you know you are His, and He is yours,
your obedience will be limited,
your confidence will be shaky,
your love will be carefully calculated,
and your courage will be minimal.
That is not what we want out of our relationships with our children, so why would God desire that from us? Do we desire that our kids obey merely because they think we'll kick them to the curb if they don't? No, our desire is that they respond to our authority out of a sense of trust, and love for us....a love that develops by realizing how much they have been loved first,
Religion can command us to change behavior but it cannot change our hearts. It can tell us what is right, but it will never make us love what us right. Only the *gospel, and the complete assurance it yields, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, create a passion for holiness in our hearts, because the very nature of our hearts is changed.
My children need a Savior just like I do. My highest desire is that they would understand that. I want them to recognize the Lordship of Jesus and believe he did what he said he did, and is who he says he is.
A saving faith looks OUTSIDE of itself to what Jesus has already done, not back onto itself on what it has done. Faith can't rest securely in itself.
It is not the strength of our faith, the sincerity of our beliefs, the flawless performance of our Christian life, or the list of deeds we have accomplished, that is the firm rock that we can plant our assurance on. It is always, only, the object of our faith that can save. Jesus. The one who pursued and loved us first.
That assurance creates not only a deep and lasting peace...
but also strength.
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
Church, are we the peaceful, secure, "attached" sons who respond and work out of confident trust that we are already loved, and have been shown grace we couldn't earn?
Or are we the coveting, defensive, fear motivated, sons who are constantly clinging to control, and trying to prove to ourselves, to others, and to God that we are worth loving? (or at least more "worthy" that that guy who's struggling to keep it together, or the lady who's a hot mess over there)
Watching this scenario play out over and over again in my home has made me ponder topics like this with a new set of eyes.
So many times I see my son battling his own insecurities, and lack of belief in what he already owns...
and I see myself.
*When I use the term gospel I mean the historic Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. The word Gospel means "good news". "The Gospel" is more than a collection of facts to be believed, it is the good and true story that Jesus died and rose to defeat sin, death and evil in order to make all things new. While we were still enemies of God, sinners by nature and choice, rebels bent on rejecting him and seeking our own way, God, being rich in mercy, sent is only son Jesus into the world to live the life we could not live and die the death we deserved to die. As followers of Jesus we have come to realize that we are far more broken than we really comprehend, but in Christ we are more accepted than we could ever imagine. That is good news indeed.
Soli Deo Gloria,