For the past almost-19 years, I have been filtering the messages that bombard my children. Movies. Music. TV shows. Headlines. Textbooks. Sermons. All of it. I have attempted to provide the framework through which all of it is filtered and understood. And that framework is based on my ever-growing understanding of the Bible and of Jesus and his Kingdom. They joke about how – for their whole lives and long after it wasn’t necessary – certain words pop up in movies, and I automatically clarify, “We don’t say that.” They expect that on the way home from a church service, I will clarify or correct or add to certain points in a sermon. We discuss current events, and I encourage them to form opinions based on the life and teachings of Jesus, not just on the loudest voices of people who claim to follow him.
I suppose then that it is not a surprise that I want to filter and clarify and correct some of the messages and advice that my daughter is receiving upon her high school graduation. These two messages are maybe from opposing points of view. Or maybe they are from the two ends of the thought-spectrum of the people I know. Whatever the case, both messages miss the mark.
So my clarifying message to my daughter is this:
Sweet Girl, you know and love Jesus and you seem wise beyond your years, so I probably don’t need to tell you – but my momma-heart just can’t help herself. These two pieces of advice need some filtering.
Follow Your Heart.
If the amount of memes and inspirational posters are any indicators, this is very common advice. And I get it. I sort of agree with it. I want you to be your own person. You’re pretty awesome and unique, and I don’t want you to compromise yourself to become like the crowd. Similarly, I don’t want you to ignore or neglect your own dreams because you’re afraid of what other people would say. I lived too much of my life afraid of what other people would say or how they would judge me, and that stinks. I don’t want that for you.
But, let’s be real, sometimes our hearts are stupid. Some days, my heart really wants me not to pay my bills and use that money to run away to the beach. Some Sunday evenings, my heart really wants me to ignore the looming empty lesson plan template and eat chocolate and watch Netflix for hours instead. You may impulsively decide that your heart wants you to drop out of college and live in my basement watching the Hulu someone else pays for and eating the food I prepare. Or you may think your heart is leading you to date and move in with some guy who has quit his job to pursue that dream of writing a novel while you wait tables to pay all the bills. No. No. No. Do not follow a stupid heart.
Only follow your heart if your heart is completely captivated by Jesus and if you are sure your heart is filled up and overflowing with his love and his ways.
Make the right decisions so you don’t let Jesus (and me) down.
Sweetie, I know I’ve told you this before, but just to be sure — Jesus loves you. Nothing you do can ever make him love you more. And nothing you do can ever make him love you less. He knows you better than you know yourself. Never, not once, no matter what you do, will you ever provoke Jesus to clutch the pearls around his neck and gasp in shock. (Not that Jesus actually wears pearls, but you know what I mean.)
Have you met him? Have you read about him in the Bible? When he was arrested, his very best friends abandoned him. They bolted. Then they pretended they never knew him. Fearing for their own lives, they jilted Jesus and hid in a room for days. And what did Jesus do when he rose from the dead and met back up with them? He lovingly corrected their lack of faith. He gave them the proof they needed (he let them touch his wounds; he ate in front of them; he cooked for them; he walked through walls). Then he assured them of his love and gave them jobs to do, a purpose in life to help spread his Kingdom message. Jesus is full of grace. I’m pretty sure if he didn’t lecture them on letting him down, you’re going to be ok.
There is no way you can live life without making mistakes or messing up. You will make bad choices. Expect it. You will fall. Sweetheart, you aren’t perfect and nobody expects you to be. When you fall, fall into his grace. When you fall, be honest. Come to me. You don’t have to pretend or put up a front – that is a lonely life. I promise – you cannot lose my love. Jesus and I both understand your humanity. Your humanity and imperfection will never be a let-down to us.
As Jerry Bridges explained in his book Transforming Grace, God’s “grace does not first rescue us from the penalty of our sins, furnish us with some new spiritual abilities, and then leave us on our own to grow in spiritual maturity.” No. That’s not how it works. As John Newton wrote in Amazing Grace, “grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” God started the work in you, and God will complete it. Rest in his love. Receive his love and grace and let it fill you up and flow out of you. Receive his love and grace and allow it to transform you. This life of grace is the exact opposite of the try-hard life where you work hard to live a checklist of rules so you don’t disappoint God.
My hope for you is that you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves you – relentlessly, lavishly, endlessly, he loves you. And then that you will live as one loved by God. On your good days and on your bad days. In your most shining moment and in your darkest, most shameful moment. I want you to know that God wildly loves you — the exact same amount in every situation. There is no way you can ever impress a perfect, holy God. So to think that you can somehow let him down is laughable.
The Kingdom of God isn’t about following the rules and making the right decisions. I like how Sarah Bessey describes the Kingdom:
“The Kingdom of God works into us like yeast, and it grows like a seed in good soil. It enters quietly, holistically, radically, joyfully subversive, right into the core of our humanity, unfurling, renewing, and giving work to our hands. It shows up when we live loved and where we love each other well. And the Kingdom of God lasts.”
Live as one loved. Love others well. The rest will fall into place. Don’t worry about letting anyone down. God and I both love you unconditionally.
Now, go! Set your heart on Jesus. Receive his love for you. Then follow that heart full of love. (Not the stupid heart that wants to be selfish and lazy.) Follow your Jesus-filled, loving heart and overflow that love everywhere you go to everyone you meet. And when you mess up (and you will) and when you do slip up and follow the stupid, selfish heart (and you will), fall into grace. Be honest, receive forgiveness, and receive love and then get back to living as one loved.