Every girl’s story begins with her mom. She teaches you so much about life and how to live it. My mom taught me how to speak my first words and how to play with others; how to dress appropriately, how to cross my legs like a lady, how to cook, and how to fold fitted sheets. She taught me to sing and to love good music. She taught me how to be strong, and that it’s OK to cry when you don’t feel strong anymore. She taught me to love Jesus, read my Bible, and to be active at my church. In fact—because my Dad rejected church when I was very young—everything I understood about God, when I was a child, was learned from my mom. . . and then from my church.
My spiritual wires got crossed somewhere along the way, and I began to see God as demanding, and my relationship with Him became performance based—based on fear of failure. I became acutely aware of my flaws, my temptations, and my mistakes. “Jesus loves me, this I know” became distorted into “Jesus (only) loves good little girls”—and I really struggled with being good. I mean, REALLY struggled!
Every opinion I had about myself became grounded in worries about being good enough. Bible lessons about obedience became a spiritual earworm** that tormented me; a song stuck in my head that I could not resist and could never finish. I knew I was not always a “good little girl”. Some days I wasn’t good at all. Eventually, I began to wonder if there was even any point in trying to be good.
All of my spiritual struggles stood in sharp contrast to my sister, for whom being good just seemed to come naturally. She didn’t swear, or hit our little brother, or talk in the sassy tone that was my specialty. She loved to be in the kitchen helping our mom; I hated it. She was so good that it was clear (to my young brain and immature emotions) that she didn’t deal with the same temptations, and certainly didn’t make the same mistakes! To illustrate: On ONE occasion, she uttered a curse word in my presence and I used that as blackmail over her for at least 3 years—“What would Mommy think if she knew you talked like that?” Yep, in the arena of being good enough to win Jesus’ love, I was clearly out-classed. She made it look easy.
There was, however, one area where I could excel. School. I still love school today—and long to return to college—because I know that is my place to shine.
In school. . .
I could raise my hand and know the answer.
I could get the perfect test score.
I could be better than good enough.
I could be the best at something.
Yes, I was THAT student. The one you hated in school. But, oh were my parents proud! They encouraged me, and when my grades faltered on a couple of tests, they asked if I’d really done my best. The lesson I internalized was that, if it wasn’t an “A” grade, it must not have been my best. I embraced the belief that, if I didn’t get that “A”, I was less of a person—less than I could be. Not living up to my potential. And so, I worked harder.
My report cards were decorated with “A” grades, but no grade can fill a heart that doesn’t feel good enough. I know this is true, because none of mine did. There was this Jesus-shaped hole in my soul, and I was trying to fill it with straight “A” report cards and Honor Roll membership. Eventually, I would try to fill it with food, intimacy, and even being a “perfect” mother.
In time, I would learn that none of these things, and none of my relationships, could fill the place reserved for God.
And no one could teach me the song He wanted me to sing; one I wouldn’t mind having stuck in my head.
Jesus Loves Me, this I know.
**Earworm: According to Wikipedia, an earworm is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.