Like a Child
Then He put a little child among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes Me, and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes not only Me but also my Father who sent me.” ~ Mark 9:36-37
Several weeks ago, in my quiet time, the words from Mark 9:36 seemed to jump off the page of my Bible. I had read the scripture countless times before, but somehow I had missed the single sentence where Jesus took a child in His arms. I paused and allowed the words to paint a picture of a child sitting contently in Jesus’ lap, feeling loved and so very special. Then the image changed…and I saw myself as the child in Jesus’ lap. His strong arms wrapped around me, holding me tight.
“Sharon, I love you.”
In that instant, my heart swelled and tears welled in my eyes. Here I was, in my 60s, still struggling to believe I was worthy of God’s unconditional love. My Marine father loved me, and was a good father, but he was a harsh disciplinarian. Even as a preschooler, I was treated like a young recruit. I quickly learned to do what I was told immediately and without question. And I was to do it right the first time. I was conditioned to fear failure and fear disappointing my father. In my young mind, disappointing him meant he would not love me, because his love was based on my performance. The good order and discipline expectations tarried throughout my life, and have continued even after my father’s death in October 2021.
While my childhood was one of the continual expectation to do all things right, it actually benefitted me greatly when I launched into the workaday world and shaped my work ethic. It taught me to persevere in the midst of hard times. It made me set high performance goals, to always exceed expectations, and to do every aspect of my job right the first time. However, at some point, my self-expectations morphed, unnoticed, into unrealistic expectations. I strived for perfection in every micro-detail. A small mistake was a catastrophic failure. I continually worried about what others thought and I allowed what I thought people thought to influence my decisions. I was consumed with pleasing people. I was weighed down by perceived expectations. My perceptions had become tainted; my expectations were unrealistic. I positioned myself to always expect disappointment. I feared fear.
These strongholds bled over into virtually every area of my life. I was consumed with the fear that I was not honoring my ailing mother because I wasn’t doing enough to fix the situation. I wrestled with the perception that I was failing my sister, mom’s caregiver by choice, because I wasn’t able to resolve all of the hardships. I was overwhelmed in my leadership role at church because I was failing to be what everyone needed me to be at all times. I desperately wanted to please God. I faithfully had my quiet time and prayed daily, yet I struggled with the fear that I was still falling short and disappointing God. I sensed I was failing to meet the expectations of my longtime, close friends. I became obsessive about having my house in order at all times; in case the Lord took me home, I didn’t want to leave a mess for my executor and family. I fretted about being an inconvenience, both in life and death. I was a mess.
And then Jesus met me in Mark 9.
“Sharon, My love for you isn’t based on anything you do or don’t do. You don’t have to do anything for Me to love you.”
In that moment I knew I needed to come to Jesus, emotionally, as if I were a child. It was time for me to surrender the decades of unrealistic expectations, presumed responsibilities and tainted perceptions. It was time to let go of my learned, conditioned fears.
It was time to rest in the truth: God’s love is not based on my perfect performance.
God loves me because He is God and I am His beloved child.