Sitting before me appears to be an innocent picture of a young boy, neatly dressed, standing next to his dad. Yet to me, it’s the most revealing picture that I’ve ever seen. It has become a window into my soul enabling me to see into my life as a child and understand how at an early age my soul was formed.
Taken when I was seven years old, Dad and I are decked out in our Sunday best. We look, as some folks say, “picture perfect.” I’m certain that either before or after this “photo op” occurred, Dad escorted me to the doorway of my Sunday School classroom and prior to giving me a kiss and sending me inside, he repeated the weekly mantra: “Now Fil, your mom and I have taught you how to behave. Don’t you disappoint us! You know how to act!”
Recalling those days at the doorway and the Bible stories we were taught helped me recognize that the lesson was essentially the same: “You’ve been taught how to behave. Don’t disappoint us. You know how to act.”
Is it any wonder that much of my life I’ve frantically paced back and forth, wondering, fearing, and dreading how God feels about me? Does it surprise you that I became a relentless overachiever whose fainting hope was to earn God’s love and approval by doing and performing?
Meanwhile, Jesus has particularly used children (especially my own) to help me discover how God really thinks and feels about me.
An exceptional benefit our family enjoyed during our twenty-five years working with Young Life was month-long assignments at resort properties. When our son Will was three years old I was to be the speaker at a newly opened facility, ten hours from our home. Knowing my days would be filled once we arrived, my wife and I decided to take a whole week to drive the trip, allowing us to spend some quality time together as a family. Thus, for seven fun-filled, light-hearted, carefree days, Will and his older sister were the focus of my attention.
As expected, when we reached our destination I hit the deck running. On the fourth morning, I remember sitting in a meeting, aware of someone pacing back and forth at the end of a long hallway to my left. At first, I gave no thought to the person’s presence. But as the march continued, I turned and discovered that it was Will. When he passed in my full view, he slowed down and looked in my direction. I was now distracted, wondering what was going on. He kept pacing, so the next time he passed I motioned him to come to me. I pray that I’ll never forget the look of utter joy, relief, and delight on his face. First walking and then running toward me, he shouted, “Him wants me! Yes! Him wants me!” After enjoying a week of nonstop attention, my son was wondering whether I liked him and still wanted to be with him.
“Him wants me!” That simple declaration, shouted exuberantly with confidence, is the best explanation I have to offer for the ongoing radical transformation occurring in my life today. God wants me! Not because of anything I’ve done or have the capacity to do. God wants me, for the simple reason that I’m God’s son. And nothing I ever do or fail to accomplish can budge the fact that I’m dearly loved, completely forgiven, and forever free.
Are you aware of the ways that your childhood has shaped your image of God?
What happens in your heart when you read the words, “Him wants me!”?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.