Why you should stop trying to earn God’s love

I gave my three-year-old a bowl of grapes the other day, and he said something that broke my heart.

“Jack. Eat your fruit, buddy.”

“Why? Because it helps me grow big and strong?”

“Yes.”

“And because you and Daddy love me more when I eat my fruit?”

My heart about stopped. Did he really think that my love for him had anything to do with him eating his grapes? This concept sounds so obvious and juvenile to us…but how often do we subliminally believe that God’s love for us changes with our behavior?

“Buddy. Mommy and Daddy love you always and forever no matter what. There’s nothing you can do to change that. We want you to eat your fruit because it’s good for you. We want what’s good for you because we love you.”

“Oh. Ok!” Then he ran off to watch his sister play Mario Kart. I can’t stop thinking about this exchange. My love for these tiny people runs deeper than anything I know. I tell them I love them every day. I show them I love them by making their meals, keeping them clean, comfy and addressing their every need – and a lot of their wants, too. There’s nothing they did to earn my love for them, I loved them before I birthed them.

In fact, if kids had to “earn” our love, we would all be in trouble. These miniature, bouncy humans have approximately zero to offer their parents, rationally speaking. They are loud when you tell them to be quiet. They are quiet when you tell them to speak up. And we love them. They are expensive, exhausting and create more dirty diapers than should be legal. And we love them. Purely from a place of logic and reason, children are a net drain on our finances, time and energy…And we love our kids unconditionally, regardless of what they bring to the table. We love them because we love them, not because they did something to earn it.

Is this not the same way God loves us?

What can I possibly offer the God who spoke the world into existence? Nothing. And He loves me. He provides for my every need and even a lot of my wants. Here I am, loud when He wants me to be quiet; quiet when He wants me to speak up. And He loves me. Even when I do all that I can to serve Him, I’ve accomplished nothing He couldn’t have taken care of by Himself. He loves me because He loves me, not because I did something special to deserve it. But because He is love.

As Christians, we say that God loves us, but do we really believe that? After our passive-aggressive retorts to our spouse; after habitually making everything a priority except Jesus, after we snap at our kids and ignore our neighbors; we realize we’ve messed up. Again. We pause for a moment to come up for a breath of air and feel like we’ve failed God too many times. And then we do something dangerous: we mistakenly intertwine God’s love for us and His delight in us – something that we cannot affect; and something that we can. It’s there that we’ve missed the crux of grace. We begin to feel unloved and unworthy because of our failings, like somehow God’s love for us is dependent on our behavior. Good news, friends, it isn’t.

His love for you will never waver. I mean, how could a human do anything to alter the very character of God who has existed forever? Is there anything more comforting than that? He. Loves. You. And do you know what exhilarates me? That separate from His love for me, God can actually delight in me. When we obey Him, when we pursue Him, when we delight in Him  – He delights in us. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” (Psalm 147:11)

My husband is taking on the massive DIY project of ripping out the old, yucky carpet on our stairs. We wanted to make them look less “The Money Pit,” and more “Pinterest.” This is a legit project involving an orbital sander, hammers, and dozens of other toxic or sharp items procured from Home Depot. Jack has intently watched his Daddy rip carpet, sand and paint when he finally asked to help. What help can a 3-year-old actually provide in a staircase redo? About as much help as I can offer LeBron James in perfecting his free throw. Nada. And yet David and I were thrilled that Jack wanted to help with the project. David handed him a wrench and told him to tap on each of the already-secured screws to, you know, “make sure everything was tight.”

As parents, our delight obviously wasn’t in Jack’s wrench-tapping skills. Our delight was in Jack’s heart to please his dad. We already loved him to capacity, whether he was watching TV or helping his dad. Because we love him, we were thrilled that he desired to help his Daddy accomplish his work. We love our son while he is hitting his sister. We love him when he gives her a hug. But we delight in him when he does the right thing.

John Piper explained, “Therefore, we are doing what is right when we are understanding the truth of God’s value for what it is, and feeling it proportionately to his universal supremacy, and acting in ways that express God’s supreme value. That is what ‘right’ means.”

I’m so grateful that God uses parenting to give us a glimpse into the way He feels about us, His children. God loves you always, without condition or reservation. He loves you at your worst and at your best. He loves you because He loves you. He loves you so relentlessly that He desires you to seek Him and delight in Him. And when you do seek Him, obey Him and value Him, you delight Him. Does this not blow your mind? That the God of the universe can actually delight in you, when you delight in Him? That God uses tiny people who cannot even tie their own shoes to demonstrate His perfect love for me?

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