Ian and have this frequent exchange.
“Guess what, Ian?!” I say excitedly.
“What?” he says. (He’s hoping, I’m sure, that I’m about to whip out a package of fruit snacks.)
“I love you.”
Usually he smiles and goes back to whatever he was doing (read: pushing around a matchbox car or construction vehicle), but occasionally he follows it up in typical toddler fashion with his favorite question: Why?
“Why you love me, Mama?”
This question hits me right in the gut every time. How can I possibly explain the depth of my love, the way it is so abstract and yet immensely concrete? How can I explain—in terms a toddler can understand—this mystic and eternal phenomenon, the way my Savior loves me, and how the way I love Ian is but a dim and fuzzy reflection of that reality?
“Because you’re my son, Ian.”
The line of questioning continues: Why am I your son? Why God made me? Why God loves me?
Sometimes, I say, “There is nothing you could ever do to make me love you more, and nothing you could ever do to make me love you less.”
I know it’s a concept he’s not ready to wrap his little mind around, but I hope to get in the habit of saying it early and often. I pray that by the time he can comprehend what I mean, the truth will already be ingrained in his heart and mind.
Occasionally, when he says, “Why you love me?” my instinct is to reply, “Because you are perfect.”
Of course, it’s not true. The past few very, very rough weeks of behavior issues and defiance have certainly driven that point home, if it wasn’t clear before.
Don’t get me wrong—the sentiment behind the phrase is good. It suggests that even his faults and weaknesses are endearing and special and are part of how he was made. I do want him to know that he needn’t worry about what the world says about his appearance, personality, or choices. But. I never want Ian to hear those words come out of my mouth.
One day, Ian will make a mistake. He’ll be acutely aware of his shortfall. He will know that he broke a rule, that he hurt someone, that he was wrong. And while he may not think these words explicitly, the thought will cross through his subconscious: “I am not perfect.”
And if he ever believed—even for a moment—that I thought he was perfect, he might come to me with embarrassment or shame. Or worse: his embarrassment and shame might keep him from coming to me. He might not want to share his mistake with me, because he won’t want my opinion of him to change.
For most of my life, I struggled with understanding this same reality. In the Bible, I read, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” I thought this was a command. I thought Jesus was saying, “Do better. Be better. It’s up to you!” I missed that this was both an invitation and a promise, and that my holiness and righteousness was not about my striving for personal improvement. When God looks at me and when he looks at my boys, he sees only perfection because he only sees the blood of Jesus. (Not to mention, I missed that in context, Jesus is talking about loving like God loves–that is, loving everyone. He wasn’t talking about behavior or performance.)
While God crafted my very being and is intimately aware of each of my character traits, he doesn’t love me because of any of them. Jesus doesn’t love me because I’m writer, because I’m compassionate, because I’m sensitive. He doesn’t love me less because I’m selfish, lazy, and prideful. He loves me simply because I am his child.
I don’t love Ian because he is funny, curious, or determined. I don’t love him less because he is picky, emotional, and stubborn.
Goodness knows, I don’t love him because he is perfect, but I don’t not love him because he isn’t.
I love him because he is my child.
I want him to get that, to know that, as deep into his soul as I can possible drill it.
As long as he and I have time to live this life together, I’m going to keep telling him.
“Why you love me, mama?”
“Because you are my son.”
My friend Rebekah and I just launched a new email newsletter called The Drafting Desk. It’s for all of us who are tired of striving for perfection and who want to experience the grace of Jesus instead. If you, like me, have struggled to believe that you are loved because you’re a child of God (and NOT because you act, perform, or live a certain way), then The Drafting Desk is for you! When you subscribe, you’ll receive FREE printable prayers for perfectionists, and beautiful wallpapers for your phone and desktop. Subscribe now to receive a monthly dose of encouragement, joy, and grace delivered straight to your inbox.