I exited the room, arms full of folded towels. The goal was to put them in the linen closet and come back for the rest of the clothes. I couldn’t have been gone more than ten seconds.
Sometimes ten seconds is all it takes.
When I entered the living room, every piece of freshly folded laundry was strewn across the room. Shirts were on the hearth, pants were dangling off the sewing machine, and underwear littered the floor and couch.
I spun toward my two primary suspects and asked in an eerily calm voice, “Who. Did. This?”
My three-year-old jumped to attention. “It was Ryleigh,” he said with confidence. I turned to my eighteen-month-old. She was grinning and trying to pull a pair of underwear onto her head. She hadn’t quite mastered the art of subtlety yet.
Benjamin jumped in front of me, demanding my attention. “It was Ryleigh,” he said again. “It wasn’t me. So you’re still happy with me…right?” The question caught me off guard, but not nearly as much as the look on his face.
His eyes craved acceptance. They begged me to assure him that I wasn’t upset with him. That’s when I realized the logical conclusion he’d arrived to in his mind: When I do something wrong, Mommy’s not happy with me. So if I don’t do wrong things, Mommy has to be happy with me.
I grabbed both of my son’s hands and said, “Benjamin, no matter what you do, I am always happy with you because you are my son and I love you. And there is absolutely nothing you could do, even on the tough days, to make me love you any less. I delight in you—you are always and forever my favorite Benjamin.”
A smile broke across his face. He accepted my words and went about his day.
I make a point of telling Benjamin these things on a regular basis. And yet, in a moment when wrong had been done and the prospect of Mommy’s wrath lay before him, Benjamin seemed to forget everything I’d ever said about my unconditional love for him.
I do this all the time in my relationship with God.
In my mind, there’s a scoreboard of sorts. On one side, I keep track of victories—when I get things right. On the other, I track my failures.
My failures tend to run up the scoreboard.
I’ve noticed that I often view God as the disappointed, angry coach. The one who is staring at the scoreboard, just waiting for another failure to tick the number higher. The one who holds every mistake over my head and rolls his eyes each time I ask for forgiveness.
You again? Seriously? Can’t you just get it right?
And so I cling to my victories as if they are life itself. I strive to stack up my good days and outweigh the bad days. I offer my feeble efforts at righteousness and say, “You’re still happy with me…right?”
But if no amount of freshly tossed laundry, bathroom messes, tantrums, or disobedience can ever diminish the love I have for my children—if my love for them cannot be broken—then how much stronger and unbreakable must God’s love be for his children?
God’s Word promises that, for those who have a relationship with him, nothing can separate us from his love, from his favor. It’s not because of anything special we’ve done—only what Christ has done.
My obedience—the good things I do—is a response to his unconditional love for me, not a requirement in order to receive that love.
As I plucked the underwear from my daughter’s head and gathered the scattered laundry, I’m sure the satisfied smile on Benjamin’s face was mirrored on my own. We’d both been reminded that we were fully known and fully loved.
And that is cause for the greatest joy.