I message on God, us, and identity.
“Is God proud of me?” The question arose, from the back seat of my car, as I drove my second-grade daughter to school yesterday morning.
On Wednesdays there is no pre-school, so instead of two crazy kids chattering as I take them to their morning destination, this day, Wednesday, is purely daddy daughter drive time. And every-so-often a question like this one pops up.
I found myself cautiously scrambling to respond, rehearsing words in my head before releasing them in speech.
“Yes, of course God is proud of you, honey,” I responded. ‘God is thrilled when you listen to God, when you show kindness to others, when you treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Reflecting on this response it sounded like a greatest hits of Christianity, oif.
Surely I could do better than this.
Sensing there was something deeper in her query, it occurred to me that God’s opinion of her matters deeply. Wondering if God is proud of you likely isn’t that different from asking “What does God think of me?” or “Does God like me?” These are questions of self-esteem, questions of personal worth, questions that matter.
As a parent raising a daughter, in America, in 2018, my wife and I do our best to encourage her to be confident and self-assured, ready to face the challenges of our day. Or at least ready to face the challenges in a not-too-distant future. And to do that you need to know that people have your back. And as a person of faith knowing that God has your back definitely matters.
Our conversation then turned to our higher power being a God of love, one who cares for us deeply, no matter what. Someone that doesn’t abandon you when things get tough. Or when we do something we shouldn’t. At some point I must have said that God loves us even when we don’t listen to God, which then led to more questions:
“How exactly do you listen to God?”
“Have you ever heard God’s voice, like someone else talks to you?”
“Or is it more of a quiet, internal conversation?”
I stumbled around with some more responses, and was glad when we arrived at school.
Drop-off now complete I drove away, grateful this difficult, unexpected conversation was complete. At least for now, tough kid questions always seem to come around again.
I found myself doing what I always do in these situations, replaying the conversation in my head, grading my responses, trying to find a better approach for next time.
It is these moments, both as a parent and as a pastor where I feel like a failure. I probably botched the answer, sorry honey, you caught daddy off guard with this one. Tho he’s still thinking about it, a good thing.
The current topic for our confirmation youth at church right now is baptism. In light of this earlier car conversation, naturally, my mind wanders to the waters. If I could have a do-over, to answer this question “Is God proud of me?” it would hopefully sound a little more like this:
In the beginning God moved over the waters, creating the world in God’s image. God called forth life, it’s all around us, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the trees of the field, you and me too. God created it all, taking great delight God’s creation.
But we humans have a way of screwing things up, it started pretty early, with Adam and Eve, and we keep screwing things up now. Every argument, every unkind word, every lie, every push, shove, punch and kick meant to harm another is all just us screwing things up.
God knew we were going to keep screwing up, so he sent Jesus to earth to show us how to live.
When Jesus was baptized in water by John the heavens opened and God said this is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. God was proud of his son Jesus, just as me and your mom are proud of you.
When we are baptized, whether it’s as an infant, or a child, or a teen, or an adult, God takes all the screw-ups that we’ve ever done, or ever will do, and says we’re free from them.
Just as Jesus had new life when he rose from the dead, our baptism gives us new life through Christ. All that screwing up we do is washed away in our baptismal waters, we’re good as new. And it is in baptism where we are claimed, by grace, as beloved children of God, full members of the body of Christ, now and forever.
This baptism is so important that Martin Luther – he’s that monk guy from 500 years ago your dad adores – suggests we should wake up each day and celebrate our baptism anew, being newly cleansed, newly washed from the gunk of the day before. So it’s not a one-time thing, this baptism, it’s a continual claiming, a continual cleansing.
So if ever you find yourself wondering some variation of is God proud of me, please know this:
God created you.
God loves you, not matter what.
And you are claimed as a child of God, part of the family. This claiming happens in the waters of your baptism, where you are given new life in Jesus, daily.
Because the starting point isn’t about what you do, or about what others think of you.
The starting point isn’t even about who you are, as important a question as that can be.
The starting point is about *whose* you are, and you are God’s own. And God, aka your celestial great-great-great-great (and then some more greats) grandparent has big, world-shaking plans for you, my beloved daughter, and for everyone else too. Amen.