It was surely God’s grace and the wisdom that can only come from above leading me to fall so deeply in love with a teenage girl who would become my wife. Betty and I have been in love for over 50 years and married 48. What a joy and inspiration she is! I thank God she was set free from the belief that she had to perform in order to please. From childhood, she felt everyone was watching her every move and she must not disappoint. This is the bondage so often imposed by religion without grace and parents who compare their children with other siblings. It is very important to learn we do not have to perform to please God.
Let me share a personal experience with our son who is now the father of four children ages 12 to 17. When Randy was a young teenager he was active in little league baseball. After arriving at a game, Betty and I got out of the car and approached the bleachers. I saw Randy sitting by himself on the bench. It didn’t make sense. This was the kid who led the league in batting average and had played so well in the field. And he was starting the all-star game on the bench?
Randy looked unsmilingly over his shoulder as he watched me take my seat in the bleachers. Seeing the expression on his face, I honestly felt as though I could read his mind. He was thinking, “I know Dad is really disappointed and upset to see me on the bench. Dear God, please don’t let him say anything or let it show.”
By the grace of God, that was one of those moments when I got it right. While I was still in my car driving from the airport to the game, I felt strongly impressed that I somehow needed to convey to my son how thoroughly proud I was of him – and that he didn’t need to “perform” to get my approval.
I walked over to the fence and leaned over. Randy looked up at me somewhat apprehensively.
“Randy,” I said. “I want you to know I am just proud of you sitting right here on this bench as I would be if you were starting at third base and hitting home runs. There’s no way I could ever be more proud of you. You’re my son, and you don’t have to do anything to please me or to gain my approval. You’ve got it one hundred percent. I love you, son.”
Tears welled up in his eyes and he smiled. Somehow I knew I had struck a chord. And with thanks to God in my heart, I knew I had done exactly the right thing. That was many years ago, and it is still a precious memory for me. I believe it was an important day for Randy, too.
As children grow, dads need to say to them: “Always do your best – and don’t be afraid to fail.” I think of the little kid who strikes out and drags his bat to the dugout. He’s going to turn his eyes up to the bleachers to his father. Dad needs to let him know that he’s just as proud as he would be if the boy had hit it over the fence. That young boy needs to hear it because he needs to know that his acceptance is not based on his performance. Acceptance is based on relationships: “I am family, and Dad is proud of me.”
I have struck out in life many times. And when I take that third swing and fan the air, the thing that’s so wonderful about God is that He says to me: “I know you tried. You are doing your best. We’re going to try some more, but if you never hit it where it’s supposed to be hit, I’m still proud of you. I still love you, and it’s great to know that you want to please Me.”
We have 11 grandchildren and when they were young they would say, “Papaw, let’s do this, let’s do that!” They came from everywhere like fleas on a dog! But one of those grandsons when he was only four would come to my chair, crawl up in my lap and put his arms around my neck. I just melted.
Then he’d roll his eyes up at me and say, “Papaw, what do you want to do?” That’s one of the most important things God ever showed me. I need to go to my heavenly Father, get in His lap, lean into His heart, then look up to Him and say, “God, what do You want to do?” It pleases God greatly when we are as anxious to hear His heart and know His will as we are for Him to hear our hearts.
When we do that, we are reminded that God is the all-powerful “performer” in our lives. We are not required to achieve any certain status or put on a special show. We simply need to look to God and discover what He wants to do next, waiting to see how He will bring us into the picture. In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul challenged them because of “the mercies of God, to present their bodies a living sacrifice… and to be not conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds that they might know the good, acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Remember, He is fully able to accomplish His work. His success doesn’t depend on our success. He simply calls us to be involved in whatever He intends to do. We can each be a part of fulfilling the desires of our Father’s heart. If we simply seek Him with all of our heart, we will find Him and fulfill His perfect will.
The greatest blessing you can give your children is love. Simply invite them into your life no matter what they do or how they perform. Ask God to show you how to let His love flow through you to your family and to help you learn from one another.