For the last half of this summer, I had the gift of working at a wonderful preschool/childcare place back home, bouncing around from 2 year olds to 10 year olds and all the wildness in between.
It’s a Christian school, so we got to talk to the little nuggets about Jesus every day and how they are each deeply loved by God. Seeing their childlike faith was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me. One day we talked about some things that made us afraid, and a sweet little gal shouted out that, “sometimes I get scared of lava monsters,” (thanks Moana), “but then I pray to God in my bed and He makes me happy in my jammies!” They seem to believe – wholeheartedly, unapologetically, and joyfully – that they are loved, that God is bigger/smarter/stronger than them, and that He is going to take care of them.
As I read back over that sentence, I’m struck by how rarely I can say that’s true of me. But wow, do I want to believe those simple, Biblical truths: that God is good, and that He’s big, and that He’s strong. I want to deep-down-in-my-bones-believe that I am a beloved child of God. And I so desperately want to believe all of it just like those kids: confidently, and enthusiastically, and simply.
As we grow up, we seem to pile unnecessary baggage on top of the simple, beautiful Gospel. As believers, we hear the truth of our adoption as children of God, but all too often feel like it’s a title we must work to gain and then work harder to maintain. If someone tells us we’re loved by God, we may nod our heads, while a deep part of us wonders if they just mean that God loves the people that are “better” than us. Or that He only loves us when we’ve had a quiet time every morning that week. Or that some future version of me – the one who maybe finally gets over that repeated sin – she can be a fully loved daughter, but not really the me of today.
Swing to the other end of the spectrum, and there are the times where we’re still holding on to this false belief that we must earn God’s love – and are foolish enough to believe that we can, or have done so. We run to God with our list of good works and good intentions, boasting, “Look, I did it! I can be your child now!”
When it comes to receiving and walking in our standing as children of God, we’re either the prodigal son or the older brother (and sometimes, we’re both in the same day). In Luke 15:18-19, the younger son comes to his senses after hitting rock bottom, and makes the decision to return home to the father he has cruelly rejected. We see him practicing the spiel he’ll give his dad once he gets back: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” I imagine this little speech was playing and replaying in his head with each heavy footstep on the long journey home. A lot of the time, that same narrative of unworthiness drives our perspective of what God must feel for us.
And yet, the next thing we see in the text is the father on his feet, running towards his boy. There’s embracing and kissing – and yet, the son doesn’t seem to receive his dad’s compassionate display. In verse 21 the son delivers his speech. I imagine he doesn’t meet his father’s eyes as he says the weighty words.
I think if he had looked up, though, if he had met his father’s gaze, all he would’ve seen was love. I think the prodigal son would see tears wet his father’s cheeks as he looked to his servants and said, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
The beauty of this moment is that the father does not entertain or address this idea of worthiness. He does not sit his son down and begin an open conversation, where the son presents his case of why he is unworthy and the father decides whether to let him come on as a hired servant. No, the father doesn’t direct his response to the son at all. It is not a discussion.
The father gives his final word on the matter, not even to the son directly, but to the servants. Let’s break it down:
“For this my son” – he declares that this is his son, unequivocally;
“was dead,”– this is the only acknowledgement of the reckless and sinful living, no heaps of shame or condemnation, no talk of worthiness or unworthiness;
“and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” – the simple, beautiful truth.
The final part of the verse simply says, “And they began to celebrate.” The servants, the father, the son, partying it up. The Bible doesn’t tell us that the son kept going with the whole unworthiness bit. No, he began to celebrate, believing the father’s words – words that seem to go against all reason – and receiving love that far surpasses any deepest hope.
Outside, the older brother is angry. He complains to his dad in verse 29, “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!” While the younger brother distanced himself from the father out of feelings of unworthiness, the eldest built the same chasm by believing that he was too worthy, that he had indeed earned it.
The father, graciously and lovingly, again puts his child in his proper place in the final verses (31-32). Notice that when the older brother was complaining, he referred to the prodigal as “this son of yours”. In his pride, he wanted to distance himself from his sinful brother, refusing to address their association.
And what does the father do? He again declares the brother’s identity and standing as a son, and then, with the same authority, refers to the younger as “this your brother.” He puts them back – rightly – on the same level. He calls them both his sons. He does not talk about worth or deserving or the different ranks of their mistakes, or who gets to eat what fat farm animal next. They are both his sons, and he wants them to know that. He speaks that truth over them, and he tells them who they are. He is their father. He loves them both.
Friends, look up. Let go of shame or pride or some ugly mix of both, and hear the Father call you His beloved child. There is no room for discussion or argument. There is no brother or sister comparison to bring into the mix that could change His mind. There is no need to complicate it.
He just wants us to believe His words, to receive the love that He is lavishing on us, and to come into the party.
The truth is this: I am a child of God, and if you have chosen to believe in the name of Jesus, confessed that He is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you are as well.
And He is God, our Father, the One who loves us.
He loves me. Not me plus my best achievements, not me plus anything. Just me. Just you. I can’t make Him any happier or any prouder of me than He already is. He’s chosen to love me, not because of anything I have or haven’t done or could do or will do. He’s chosen to love me without any comparison or scale measured against anyone else. He’s chosen to love me because He wants to. So He does. He loves me, as me, fully. He calls me His daughter.
There are nights when we’re paralyzed by all the lava monsters of our grown-up lives – fears of an unknown future, shame from our sin, lies we believe about our self-worth. There are lots of nights where, unlike my four-year-old friends, we struggle with believing and trusting our identity, and we don’t call out to God, and we feel miles and miles away from being happy in our jammies.
In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus lays it out for us: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Working at a preschool made one thing clear: kids know they’re kids. They simply and humbly live out of the knowledge that they are limited and small, and they trust in those who are bigger. My prayer is that we would do the same: trusting in the One who is infinitely bigger, who is immeasurable in goodness, who is boundless in majesty, and who – wonder of wonders – chooses to call us His children.
God, that we would see You rightly. When our eyes are on You and the Father You are, we see ourselves rightly as well – as Your unconditionally beloved sons and daughters. Help us trust in what You’ve already finished, and not run around trying to bring our little accomplishments to You, or to hide from You under piles of shame. All You want is us, at Your feet, empty handed. Like a child. Everything else will come out of a response to knowing You and Your love. And oh, what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
So we are! That’s some Good News. That’s enough to make me happy in my jammies.