Jesus was once asked by his followers who was the greatest in his kingdom they called heaven. So Jesus obliged his validation-needy disciples. (Matthew 18)
Surely, each disciple was secretly hoping to hear their own name; “_____ is.” John is. Peter is…
This shouldn’t be surprising. Of course each disciple wanted to hear their name called. They loved him. They had given their life for him. And like any of us who pour our heart and soul into what we love, they would have wanted to know that all their rowdy passion and sacrifice was being noticed.
So how does Jesus answer?
He brings over a little child and places him right in the middle of his approval-seeking disciples and essentially says, “you’re looking at him. You wanted to know who was the greatest in my kingdom, right? Yeah, you’re looking at him.”
“Furthermore, the only way to ever set foot in my kingdom is by imitating this little one!” (The scripture doesn’t record a response. Maybe because they were speechless?)
What can a child give to the world other than their instinctive ability to receive love? Not much. Which is kind of the point.
Somewhere along the line, wonderful grown-up virtues like discipline and work ethic and efficiency become simultaneous with our identity. They are no longer what we do, but are who we are.
With his sly response, Jesus effectively hands his disciples a stick of dynamite and permanently blows this satanic notion to smithereens. It has absolutely no place in the kingdom Jesus is inviting you into.
Unfortunately, there is no avoiding it. This ego-driven desire for greatness and validation did not happen to them because they were disciples, but because they were human. And it will come upon you as well. Often.
So when that day inevitably arrives in your own life when you have no idea who you are or what you want. When everything that used to define your identity feels like it’s being tossed around in a tidal wave, maybe a more healing question is not who am I?
But, whose am I?
About a year ago, I was talking with my spiritual director about all of my exciting ideas I had for our church; about these amazing experiences I wanted to create to inspire people to come and pour their hopes and fears out to God and feel love and mercy in return. I told him I wanted it to be “beautiful.”
He then asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks and left me as speechless as I imagine the disciples were:
“How does God say you are beautiful?” (Deer in headlights.)
Most of my time and energy was being spent imagining and producing on behalf of others. And, without realizing it, was also being used to prop up my own sense of self-worth. If I wasn’t able to give, or if what I was giving was rejected, then how could I be worth much? I was creating to be loved instead of trusting that I was already loved, therefore I should create.
Ironically though, Jesus gave his disciples even more validation than they were secretly hoping for. They were looking to be affirmed and called worthy because of what they were giving.
Jesus reveals our self worth is found in the receiving. The only ability you need to enter into this glorious kingdom called heaven is the ability to open your arms wide like a little child and let God’s love flood your soul.
There is a shelf life to what you can give. Eventually, you will run out of good ideas. Or energy. Or a receptive audience. Or time.
But, do you know when you can receive? Always. When you’ve been rejected, you can still receive. When you’re scared, you can still receive. When you’re burnt out and broken, you can still receive.
My brothers and sisters, there is so much love in this universe being poured out on your behalf. Take a deep breath, or ten, and receive it. It’s why you’re here.
You are God’s.
You are beautiful.
You are loved not for what you do, but whose you are.