This is one of my all-time favorite photos. It’s snapshot from the day my niece, Isla, was born six years ago. Family gathered in the hospital waiting room anticipating the arrival of the first child for my brother-in-law, Sloan, and sister-in-law, Elizabeth. We’d all been cheering them on for nine months of a long-awaited pregnancy and we were there to celebrate the arrival of the newest Hildebrand.
When Sloan texted the waiting room posse that the baby was born and everybody was healthy, he asked us to meet him at the doors to Labor and Delivery to announce the birthday stats. We all excitedly gathered ‘round – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends who are like family – to hear the first news of the newest member of our tribe.
The cheering erupted from Sloan’s first words and continued after he finished speaking. We cheered every detail of this minutes-old baby girl. I’m not even sure how far Sloan had gotten into telling us they’d just had a girl and her name was Isla that this picture was snapped, and a beautiful moment was captured.
I vividly remember the day, I remember the excitement and happiness, but it wasn’t until a few days later when I saw this picture that the moment became even more significant to me. In the six years since this picture was taken, it ministers to me every time I see it.
When I saw this picture, I felt like I had a glimpse of how our Father feels about us: Love, not earned, but freely given. As His children, we don’t have to present a case for Him to love us or be impressed with us – He just does, and He just is… because (and only because) we are His.
When Sloan was telling us about fresh-from-the-womb Isla, he was merely giving her stats – gender, name, weight, length, etc. She didn’t come with an impressive résumé; Isla did nothing but arrive to elicit the cheers, tears and hallelujahs. Sloan could have told us any name, or any numbers and we would have cheered all the same. It wasn’t her stats that we even cared about. It was just… her. We cheered and loved her because she was ours.
Isla literally just had to show up to receive the love that was waiting for her. We didn’t need a background story or crystal ball to see if she would be worthy of our cheers – she was one of us and we loved her for that alone.
I know I don’t have to earn God’s love, but this photo showed me what that looks like – even in my family’s human, less-than-perfect way. Performing is an earthly endeavor. The emancipating truth for those who have been grafted into God’s family through Jesus is that we can’t be good enough for God to love us more, or bad enough for Him to love us less. He just loves us perfectly.
Earning God’s Love
We often try to win God’s approval, but the résumé we present to Him is as useful/less as Isla’s birthday résumé. However, I’m not at all surprised that we often try to substitute our “good works” for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It makes sense to try to build a résumé of good works. In just about every other capacity of our lives, we have to measure up:
Earn a promotion.
It only feels natural to extrapolate that learned behavior to God. But God shifts the entire paradigm and tells us we don’t have to – and can’t – earn His love or His acceptance. The only One He found acceptable was Jesus, therefore, Jesus is the only way for us to have eternal life with God (John 14:6). We will never be good enough… and that’s a relief. As a matter of fact, God even built in a day of every week that He expressly does not want us to earn anything – a Sabbath. He portioned out a time in which we would not work or earn, but He would still love us.
This is one of the important details that separates Christianity from other major world religions, and it’s an essential part of our faith. God gives us His love, redemption, and a relationship with Him as a free (not earned) gift through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to spin wheels over shed blood.
And although we are fickle with our affections, God’s love does not need a barometer – His love is constant, true, and continuously maximized. His love for His children does not run hot or cold, it just is. He is the author of love and loved us first (1 John 4:19). We don’t have to perform for His love.
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
I’ve always hoped that Isla would keep this picture close to her as a reminder that she didn’t have to earn our love; it was waiting for her. It is our fervent prayer that Isla’s life would be marked by the love of Jesus and that she wouldn’t believe the lie that she is responsible for making God love her. We pray that, instead, her obedience to Him would be in response to the love He has lavishly displayed for her.
Brennan Manning once said, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” May we all rest and revel in that truth.
Dear Lord, thank You that we don’t have to earn Your love. You called me and I showed up, redeemed by Jesus’ blood and that’s enough. There is nothing I did, am doing, or will do to earn Your love. May that truth remain front and center for as many days as You give me. Lord, I also know that not every baby gets this kinds of excited reaction from their earthly family. Would You make Your love abundantly known to those who feel unloved by their earthly families? May they know that they have a Father whose love they don’t have to earn, it is lavished freely. Lord, thank You for Your love. Maranatha! Amen.