Handstands and the Gospel

“Hey Mom! What do you think?” My 7-year-old called out to me as she turned upside down, bracing herself into a handstand in the middle of the living room.

“Wow!” I said with fake enthusiasm (because that’s what moms do-am I right?) “That’s pretty good.”

She grinned back at me with a snaggle-toothed grin, so pleased that she had impressed me with her gymnastic skills. Tomorrow it will be her jumping high skills, coloring skills, or any other skills she might think are impressive. This is what kids do-am I right? 

I couldn’t help but chuckle at her pleasure, because the joy that radiated from her face told me that her heart’s desire was to win to my approval, and it made me happy that my opinion mattered to her. Then I wondered if she knew that even if she did a perfect handstand every time, that I couldn't love her more than I already do... In that moment, I saw myself, not as a little girl trying to impress with gymnastic skills, but rather I saw my heart as it is today. A grown woman, still trying hard to impress and calling out, “Hey! What do you think?”

It was a sobering moment. I went on with my mundane task of washing dishes, but my thoughts began to drift through past moments when I tried so hard to be good and clamored for approval. Good grades, awards for different events, achievements that I hoped would give me notice and attention.

I think everyone does this to some extent. It shows up in a myriad of ways from end-of-the-year reviews at work to obsessively checking how many likes we get on Facebook. To some extent we are all asking, “What do you think of me?” What do you think of my skills, accomplishments, house, hair, children, job, degree...and on and on I could go. We can’t help but wonder what people think of us. What does my mother think of me? Or my boss? Or my neighbor? Or the person I’ve never met who is standing in line behind me at the grocery store?

Winning the approval of others can consume us and push us to do things we ordinarily wouldn’t do. What do you think about that? Does it create joy in your life, or an anxious knot in your belly? Are you tired of striving? I am.

We hide behind the things we can do well in hopes no one will see how badly we have failed.

I see this in my children, and I see it in me. And I wonder why. Why do we fear the opinion of others? Who told us that we should care what others think? Why are we paralyzed by this fear of what everyone thinks? 

As I stood with the dishtowel in my hand and watched my daughter attempt a few more handstands, I thought about these things. My heart longs to live in a way that is free from the opinions of others, but I struggle to know how. As usual, I found myself stumbling over the gospel, as by God’s grace I so often do in this season of motherhood.

Of course, I know that the only One I should be concerned with pleasing is God. The greatest joy my daughter has is not the success of her handstand, but rather the delight she sees reflected in the eyes of her parent. So it is with us. Our greatest joy will never be found in the successes of our life, but rather in the delight we find in our Heavenly Father’s approval. Our hearts truest desire is to please him. Too often, we are distracted with the opinions of others, and find ourselves unfulfilled by the accolades, or crushed by the disapproval. We are too quick to forget how unconditionally loved we truly already are by the One who's opinion of us matters most.

My daughter eventually stopped showing off and disappeared to play, satisfied that she had won my affection for now. The Word of God tells us that nothing we do wins his affection, for his delight is already ours through the work of his beloved Son, Jesus. Even if we succeeded in every attempt to please him, it wouldn’t change how he feels about us.

He cannot love us more than he already does.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we are in right standing with the Father, and he is pleased with us. This is hard for us to accept, because we want to know, “What do you think, Father? Is this good? Have I done enough to deserve your love?” We leap and twirl hoping that our good works are impressive enough to win his affection. How sad his heart must be when we doubt his love for us. How he must long for us to trust that he loves us completely, no matter how good we are...or aren't.

Do you believe that God loves you as you are? Are you still working hard to achieve a perfect handstand to win his approval? Do you have the faith to believe that God thinks good things about you? Can you accept his complete, unconditional love for you, or do you believe there is still more work for you to do first?

My prayer for you and me today is that we would allow the Holy Spirit to give us the faith to believe the truth. I pray that we will trust that Jesus’ work on the cross was all that was needed to please God and that there is nothing more we can do to win his approval. I pray that we will cease striving to earn his forgiveness, and instead receive it as the gift we don’t deserve but get to have anyway. I pray that we will be like children, believing in the goodness of our Father, and rejoicing in the truth of his delight in us.

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.       Ephesians 2:4-9