Sitting primly in her chair at McDonald’s, a thoughtful six-year-old girl with dark brown hair slowly licks her vanilla ice cream cone, careful not to let any drips fall on her clean dress. Her dad smiles across the table as he sips his coffee.
“How was school today?” he asks gently, trying to engage her in conversation.
“Fine,” the girl replies shyly, looking down at her dangling feet. Nervous and uncomfortable, something seems to be holding her back from relaxing and just enjoying being with her dad. Instead, she focuses on her dripping ice cream cone.
That little girl was me. The oldest child and the only daughter, I put great pressure on myself to be perfect – a 99% on a test wasn’t good enough. I was so afraid of letting down my parents or my teachers. More than anything, I wanted them to be proud of me.
Somewhere along the way, my view of God became twisted. I felt that I had to keep up my “perfect” performance to earn His acceptance. I was afraid of His frowning disapproval if I didn’t match up to the impossibly high standards I had set for myself.
The first public proclamation God the Father made during Jesus’ earthly ministry was after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. A voice came from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus hadn’t even started His ministry yet! He hadn’t done anything to earn His Father’s approval. But God didn’t say, “I’m proud of my Son for all He has accomplished.” His pleasure in His Son wasn’t based on anything He did, but just who He was.
I can’t receive love and acceptance from my parents or anyone else until I am fully convinced of my Heavenly Father’s complete love and acceptance of me. As I am learning to release control of my performance-driven life and accept my identity as His beloved daughter, I am finally becoming free to love and to be loved.
Fast-forward about 25 years from that first McDonald’s ice cream date with my dad. My father is recounting the story to me over cappuccinos at Starbucks. “I just wanted to take you out to do something fun,” he remembers. “But you were so serious, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.”
My dad pauses and then says tenderly, “You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to worry about making a mistake. I want you to know that I’m very proud of you and I love you.”
Eyes filling with tears, I can hear my Heavenly Father’s voice saying, “This is My beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”