Several years ago I learned a valuable lesson that I often share from the pulpit in my churches. Through a discipleship huddle group recently I discovered a Scripture to crystallize what I learned back then. In Mark 1:11, Jesus is coming out of the baptismal waters and the sky opens up and his Heavenly Father proclaims, “This is my son, whom I love and in whom I am well pleased.” What I discovered years ago as a Pastor is: God feels the same way about us. We are a child of God. God loves us. God sees us as a treasure and is pleased with us not for what we do, but for who we are in Christ.
The truth is we have a difficult time believing God could be pleased with us, because most of us have heard from others verbally or by actions, “I love you, if.” I was one of those persons who heard it often in family, school, athletics and vocation. I felt as though I had to prove my worth. I was always trying to please everyone. In my first pastorate I finally came to grips with this fact after God blessed us with an explosion of new people, new challenges and a congregation too large for me to please everybody. I felt isolated and in need of guidance.
Thankfully Virginia Baptists had a Young Leaders program that helped me step back and recognize my insecurities. Later, I was in a doctoral program at BTSR where we would have to share our story in a presentation in front of our peers and professors about how God led us to this point. I was wrestling with this idea of feeling worthless and trying to prove my worth when God revealed a repressed memory. When I was eight years old, my dad left me in the truck on a secluded dirt road in the dark, and I witnessed my dad’s marital infidelity in a car parked behind the truck. I shared that story with my peers and was emotionally spent afterwards on a Friday afternoon in July. I drove home wondering and praying, “What now God? I know why I am this way but what do I do about it?”
That Friday evening we played church softball, and I continued to wrestle with this new insight. A couple of innings into the game, I got a hit and was waiting for the next batter. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice say, “Daddy, what base are you on?” I turned to see my six year old son, Joseph, on the other side of the fence with his face against it and hands clenching it. I told him I was on first base, and he stood there staring at me. This was the first time he had seen me perform on the athletic field. Of course, you can figure out how that emotionally charged me up. As the next guy gets a hit I ran as fast as I could and scored a run…probably needing oxygen! There was Joseph waiting for me and giving me a big hug. I thanked God for that moment as I continued to wrestle with this new knowledge.
A couple of innings later, I am reaching for a bat when I hear Joseph again, “Daddy.” He was standing beside me at this point. He continued, “Are you getting ready to bat?” I said, “Yes Joseph.” After a pause, he then said, “I’ll see you at first base.” God spoke through my son at that moment. You don’t have to kill yourself to please everyone. I love you for who you are, not what you do. Whether you strike out or get a hit, I am here. I love you.
I believe more than anything else, that Sunday School/Bible study/small groups is the best place for this message to take hold. Through caring brothers and sisters in Christ, we can help people, who are looking for unconditional love, believe in a God who would love them enough to die for them. Through a class that is willing to be open/trusting to hear people’s insecurities and doubts, you provide a safe place for God to speak through introspection and dialogue. Teachers, more than anything else, provide a place where people will know God will see them at first base. Love them, ask powerful questions of introspection and don’t give pat easy answers to complicated questions. It’s okay to allow persons to wrestle a while as you care for them. I have come to discover, like Jacob in Genesis 32, wrestling leads to holy moments and transformed lives.