I have learned a very important lesson – that has changed my entire perspective of who I am in Christ. It is often through my failures and humiliations that God is able to get my attention. When my eldest daughter finished first grade at home, she hated school and wasn’t too pleased with me either. Her attitudes frustrated me and my attitude created an atmosphere of anger and discontent in our home on a regular basis. Everyone was unhappy. In my eyes I had failed my husband, my child, and even God. My performance, and to be honest hers, meant everything to my self perception.
At this time our church required all its members to read through a book by Bill Gillham called Lifetime Guarantee. The insights from his take on the implications of the first half of the letter to the Romans changed my life and brought encouragement to my heart. It is my hope that the lessons I learned might encourage you as well.
The Bible teaches that God is love and that He loves us (I John 4:16) and that He designed us to need His love. We see our great need for love and acceptance from the earliest age. It motivates our patterns of behavior from infancy. Positive responses stimulate repetitive behaviors, negative responses motivate us to make other attempts. As children, some are very good at getting the responses that make them feel loved. Others, I’m afraid, could behave perfectly and still never get these basic needs satisfied.
My own parents divorced when I was only 3 years old. I soon learned that no matter how ugly I behaved, my mother loved me and would not abandon me. However my behavior, good or bad, did little to accomplish my desperate desire for my father’s return. I tried very hard for many years to please my father. And although I know that he always loved me, I was never fully convinced of that as a child.
Gillham points out that God created us with these needs in order for us to find the satisfaction of them in Himself – for His glory. The problem is that even after we turn to Him for salvation from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, we live our lives in the patterns of the slave rather than the free man. In other words, we don’t acknowledge the fact that we are new creatures, completely loved and accepted by God in Christ Jesus. Instead we trust in our old techniques, however ineffective, to generate the feeling of love and acceptance from God and from others.
I found that I had taken my childhood patterns of behavior for love into my marriage and was even teaching them inadvertently to my children. Seeking the ‘right’ response from my husband by performance was not effective, because I often failed in my attempts – as I had homeschooling – or simply didn’t result in the response I desired (we truly have no control over another’s behavior). The sad truth of the matter was that I was consistently feeling unloved, unappreciated, and unhappy. I tried to change myself, but failed with every attempt.
Gillham says that we seek to satisfy our God-given need for love with the conditional love of people rather than the unconditional love of our Creator. We build our own esteem on this foundation, just as I was doing. I allowed the deception to steal my freedom. The truth that I need not perform to be acceptable or loved by God is freeing, it’s liberating! God calls me His beloved in Christ, I am fully accepted based on Jesus’ payment for the penalty of my sin at the cross and I receive His righteous standing in the presence of God. I can confidently call Him ‘Father.’ In gratitude and love I respond to God and the wonderful gift of my husband with my life. But I need never again strive to perform for their love. Yay!
Failing to recognize fully what God has so graciously given us in Christ, leads us continue in and to transfer performance-based patterns of behavior on to our children. I understand now that I have the responsibility to break the cycle. I must help my children see that they too are fully accepted and loved by God and by me.
Of course the performance of our children is important to us, just as our behavior is important to God. But the difference is that we should not be motivated by the fear of losing His love, but eager to receive His approval. My ultimate desire for both myself and my children, is to hear God ultimately say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant…” because I already know He has said, “I accept you as my beloved child.” (John 1:12)