My ten-year-old had a big week. Last Thursday, she joined the Black Belt Team at karate class. It’s a two-year commitment toward earning that high honor belt, available by invitation only. Considering she only started taking karate classes six months ago, we were impressed she’d secured a spot and was eager to take it. It’s the first sport in which she’s expressed more than passing interest since we signed her up for tumbling at age 3. That lasted exactly one summer before she moved on to ballet, then tennis, then a short stint at recess soccer, which never blossomed into a desire to join the actual team.
But karate, who knew? She finally found her thing.
But that’s not all. On Sunday—way better than karate—my beautiful firstborn girl made a commitment of another kind. She got baptized.
Our church practices believer baptism, meaning children are dedicated to the Lord as infants but baptism happens later, after a person is old enough and wise enough to choose Jesus for herself. There is no magic age or stage at which to get baptized. I just did it myself a year ago. The point is that baptism is something Jesus tells us to do as a public proclamation of our faith in Him. And my daughter made the decision to do it—all on her own, with no prompting from us.
Oh my momma heart! It’s been stretched to bursting this week, I am so proud of my daughter.
But I won’t tell her that. Not exactly.
See, a couple days ago while we were out running errands, my daughter and I passed her karate school. It made me think about her accomplishments and wise decisions lately—not just baptism and Black Belt team but so much more. She’s doing well in school. She’s been working hard at showing kindness to others. Her piano skills are advancing.
So I glanced at her through the rear-view mirror and said, “I’m so proud of you—“ period.
She caught my eyes in the mirror and asked an odd question.
Why? Why is Mom so proud? At that moment I could’ve easily rattled off a list of her efforts and achievements. But I didn’t. Instead, I said this.
“I’m proud of who you are.”
God’s love is not conditional. He doesn’t love me more or less depending on how hard I work, how many blog posts I write, how many hours I spend reading my Bible or how many people I pray for. All those things are good, yes, but they are not what makes me loved. My accomplishments, my decisions, my striving cannot earn me greater favor with God. He loves me—and you—for who we are, not what we do.
And I intend to love my children the way God loves us all.
If I had said, “I’m proud of you for getting baptized” or “I’m proud of you for working hard at karate,” those statements would’ve been true. But they would not have described the full picture. As a parent, I need to view my children’s accomplishments like I view whipped cream at Starbucks. It’s a nice addition, but it doesn’t turn the water into coffee. The coffee was already created, perfectly delightful on its own. Whip is just a bonus.
My children are loved because God created them. Not because they get baptized or memorize Bible verses or get an A on a math test or brush their teeth before bed. If my kids start believing my love for them is dependent on what they do and how well they obey, then they could also believe it’s possible to lose my love. If their grades slip or they struggle with doubts. I want them to come to me when those trials hit, to talk to me and invite me to help them through it all with grace. Don’t you? How will our kids be able to trust us with their failures if they think our acceptance hinges on their success?
When my ten-year-old stood in front of the crowd at church and proclaimed her faith in Jesus, I was there to wrap her in a fluffy towel and give her a dripping wet hug. I am proud of her decisions. But not because of the decisions themselves. I’m proud of the God who lives in us both—the One who loves us both in spite of our flaws. I’m so grateful he gave me my children. So through every smart and foolish decision—theirs and mine (it’s inevitable)—I pray we can love one another the way God loves.
“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, NLT).