Tag Archives: beloved

Nikes and Nintendos

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As children, my mom always dressed my sister and I in name brand clothes and honestly, we rarely went without any toy or treat our hearts desired. Remember the original Nintendo? It was a big day in the Cleveland household when Dad showed up after work with one! And it wasn’t even Christmas or anyone’s birthday! Now, it wasn’t that we were wealthy, but we weren’t poor either. Plus my mom worked at a department store and is a super shopper. (And bless my mother’s heart, she was somehow able to keep me looking somewhat fashionable despite the fact that I preferred jeans to dresses, sports jerseys to cute tops, and I refused to take off my Iowa Hawkeye jacket, no matter how cold or snowy it became outside.) Now, we weren’t completely spoiled and my parents did say no. There were some fads my mother allowed to pass us by. Remember hypercolor shirts? I wanted one so badly, but she just couldn’t figure out a shirt that started off ugly and only got uglier when exposed to the sun. But my parents loved giving us good gifts.

Things for my family changed when my dad unexpectedly lost his job. I’ll never forget going school shopping during that time. It was the first time my gym shoes were from WalMart instead of Nikes or Asics. I remember being so nervous that kids were going to make fun of me. They didn’t, but I still had a sense that what I had was somehow less than everyone else.

If you’ve been on this journey with me from the beginning, first, I say thank you (if you haven’t – welcome) and if you’ve been reading along, you’ve noticed a theme. I feel passionately that the biggest things that prevent us from finding worth in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter are our own accomplishments, accumulation, and chasing accolades. I think it is easy to acknowledge and own ways that our accomplishment (or lack thereof) begin to define us. I’m not so sure that it is as easy to own the other two. No one wants to be known as materialistic or as an approval addict. But I know I’ve been both.

Whether we use accumulation of things as a way to fit in, impress, or to fill some other need, it never really works well. The second you buy a new car or gadget, an even newer and better model comes out and the guy down the street has it. About the time you purchase the latest fad, the fad has passed and everyone is onto something else. In keeping up with the Jones, we really end up losing ourselves. King Solomon was the wealthiest man of his day. His net worth would have rivaled Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. And after accumulating everything his heart could desire or imagine, he concluded that it was all meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2). And even Jesus had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8).

My WalMart shoes weren’t as expensive or considered as good as my classmates’ Nikes.  And yet, my personal worth had not changed. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but how often do we allow our personal worth to be defined by things we have? For my family, money stayed tight for years to come and it was one of the best things that could have happened. Don’t get me wrong, I love nice things. And I still love shoes! My father frequently teases me about the sheer volume of my shoe collection. The important difference? I don’t need things to feel ok, or accepted, or valued. Things don’t consume me or own me or define me or cause anxiety.

What do you tend to accumulate? Maybe it isn’t anything material at all. Do you accumulate titles? Awards? Friends? Likes on Instagram? Why is it that even though we know that the stuff of this world can’t really give us personal worth (that money can’t really buy us happiness),  we tend to still hope that somehow it will?

You are Royalty!

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I can remember when I first realized that I was good at school. I knew the answers to questions the teacher asked and loved it when my name was called and I’d receive praise for responding correctly. In kindergarten, I had dreams of becoming a doctor like Doogie Howser, a TV show about a child prodigy who becomes a doctor as a teenager. (This dream quickly evaporated when I realized I was not going to be going to college by age 12.) I found affirmation in pleasing adults. It felt good to be known for being smart, being a good student, and for being “a good kid”.

But there was a problem. The grade on the paper didn’t continue to satisfy. Making sure I always earned “As” was stressful – I remember crying when I saw a “B” on my report card (as if a B was going to ruin my life somehow). Plus, my grade was often out of my control at some level. For example, once in 5th grade, I was given an F on an assignment because my teacher thought I had cheated (I hadn’t) and no amount of arguing could change her mind. Since I based my identity on being right, I felt threatened and insecure whenever I was wrong. I’d argue with anyone who challenged me, and frankly, no one likes a know-it-all. Adults didn’t always give me the affirmation I wanted or thought I needed. They couldn’t fill the emptiness I felt inside. And being known as the “goody-two-shoes” wasn’t always fun either. Sometimes I longed to know what it would be like to take on another reputation – just once. I could never do enough, have enough, or be esteemed enough to feel ok or secure or fill the emptiness inside. I don’t think I’m alone.

One of the biggest reasons we experience so much pain, insecurity, and loneliness in life is because we forget our true identity as God’s beloved. Our accomplishments, accumulation, and accolades describe us, but they should never define us. And there is another problem that chasing these things as a way to find identity causes – regret. And regret shouldn’t define you either. What defines you comes from the inside and radiates out. That which is outside of you is too untrustworthy, too likely to change, too uncontrollable. But frankly our insides can feel that way too. That is, until you join your heart to the One who made it. When you give your heart back over to Jesus, your insides become much more secure and stable. Through Jesus, you are adopted as God’s child. You become part of His family. He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of lords, and if you are His, then you are royalty. Living in that truth allows you to live with confidence, freedom and with a kind of security that no accomplishment, no amount of accumulation, and no accolade can ever provide.

Matthew West has a fabulous song that points to this truth. Perhaps you’ve heard it. If not, I hope you enjoy!

How have you tried to define yourself? Sports? Popularity? Name brand clothes? Being the class clown? Is it wrong to seek accomplishment, to accumulate things or titles, or to receive accolades? What would it look like if we lived as if we really are royalty, children of the One True King?

You are Beloved

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Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest known for his intellect and his compassion. He shocked people when he gave up a prestigious career teaching at Harvard to live among a community of people with physical and intellectual disabilities. I’ve always admired the way he lived what he taught and so I took a class in graduate school that was exclusively about the life and writings of Nouwen. I’ll never forget the day my professor showed a video of one of Nouwen’s final sermons before his death. In his beautiful Dutch accent, Nouwen described how God views us as his beloved sons and daughters. And I’ve been enamored with the word beloved ever since.

Just look at some of the definitions of the word beloved: dearly loved, a much loved person, darling, favorite, sweetheart, esteemed, and worthy of love. It’s a word used to describe how a husband feels about his wife, a parent feels about their children, how God described His feelings about Jesus, and how God feels about us. 1 John 3:1 (The Voice), “Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us – He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children.”

Not every translation chooses this beautiful word, but for what it’s worth, I think it is the perfect choice to try to grasp the way God feels about us and more than that, relates to us. In the original Greek, the word translated as beloved is agapeous, unconditionally loved. God views us as being worthy of His love! What is love though? It is a word that our society has twisted and diminished. I once heard a well-known pastor define love as “to provide for and protect.” This definition didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t figure out why. Then it dawned on me. His definition was void of emotion. I can provide and protect for someone out of selfish reasons – and that is not love. Love is when you sacrificially provide for and protect someone else. When you give for another at a cost to yourself. That’s love. And that’s what God does for us.

But how can God love me to the point of making me His child when I’m so broken and selfish and stubborn and sinful? It’s because the word “beloved” implies action on the part of the one doing the loving and requires little from the one being loved. Notice another amazing word in that verse, the word lavish. God lavishes love on us! Lavish means extravagant, giving to excess, abundant, and generous. God never holds back with his love. He’s never stingy. He never withholds. How often I’ve thanked God that my relationship with Him is built on His faithfulness to me and not on my faithfulness to Him! And so it is with love. God loves me with an active and a fiercely loyal love. He sees me as worthy of His love, even when I am not. Amazing.

So how do you define love? And what does being God’s beloved mean to you?