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“I’m glad I could do good for you, Mama.”
My 6-year-old daughter’s sweet words broke into the aftermath of me disciplining her younger siblings. Her brother and sister had received their consequences, and she, alone, stood before me innocent. Although I appreciated her sincerity, something about her words troubled me.
For one thing, her admission caused me to suspect there were many times she felt she could not “do good” for me—or meet my expectations—and so she rushed to point out her good behavior. It also brought to mind the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15), a story Jesus used to show the character of God the Father. When the younger son returned home and his father welcomed him with fanfare, the older son became angry. He said, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!" (Luke 15:29-30)
That son, while he served his dad faithfully, understood little of his father’s great love and compassion. My daughter’s words troubled me because I wondered if I was teaching her that she must earn my love and acceptance.
I’ve known for a long time that I’m a gal with high expectations. For as long as I can remember, my perfectionistic tendencies have caused me to put pressure on myself to achieve—first as a daughter (oldest child), then as a student, employee, wife and mother. I strive for excellence in most things and beat myself up for my mistakes. I also struggle with attaching my worth to how well I perform. And I have been guilty of imposing my high expectations on others, including my children.
I become frustrated when they ignore my direct request multiple times. I fume when their immaturity causes them to make foolish decisions that cause me more work. And my patience gets a workout when I ask them to do something, and they do the opposite.
There have been times when I realize I’m crushing them with my expectations, and yet, when they can’t live up to them, I struggle to give my approval. That’s why my daughter’s words about pleasing me caused me pain. I don’t ever want my children to feel like my love—or their value—hinges on their ability to “do good” for me. This is an impossible standard and one I don’t live up to myself. The truth is, God doesn’t treat me as my sins deserve but instead offers me unlimited mercy.
I love Psalm 103:10-14 which says: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
God’s primary emotion toward His children is love. He asks that we obey Him out of love. He is a Father that runs to us and embraces us the moment we repent. That is the model I want to show my children.
Setting the Record Straight
I stooped down and looked into my daughter’s eyes. “It does make me happy when you obey me,” I said. “But I love you just the same when you disobey. And sometimes you do, and you need Jesus, just like Mommy does.”
She nodded and sighed a contented sigh. “I know.”
I’m sure I will continue to expect a lot of my children. Part of that is knowing that they are capable of more than they realize. I want them to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But I pray that I would never cultivate in them legalistic obedience. Instead, I want to point them to the One who accepts them fully in their imperfection and loves them deeply regardless of what they do.