June 9 in the Mockingbird Devotional comes from David Zahl.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17, ESV)
There’s a classic New Yorker cartoon of a woman sitting in a therapist’s office, and the caption reads, “First, I did things for my parents’ approval, then I did things for my parents’ disapproval, and now I don’t know why I do things.” No matter what your relationship is like with your mother and father, you can probably relate. Parents loom large in our lives and in our minds, even after they are long gone.
You don’t have to be a child psychologist to know that from the moment children are born they look to their parents not only for protection and sustenance, but love as well. They look to their mother and father to answer the fundamental questions, “Do you love me?” and “Am I enough?” When these questions are left unanswered, or are answered with ambivalence, people can spend the rest of their lives looking elsewhere for answers, casting for substitute fathers and mothers wherever they go. Our work, our friendships, our marriages—every project and every person become a potential oracle, or place where we might find the answer we have been looking for. Maybe you know someone who is always overreacting to perceived slights, someone with whom you walk on eggshells, knowing that even a hint of disapproval will set them off. Someone to whom every interaction feels like a test. Maybe you’ve noticed that tendency in yourself. It’s exhausting!
The passage we have here, of Jesus’ baptism, contains an unequivocal affirmation of a Son by a Father. This blessing inaugurates rather than eulogizes Jesus’ ministry. It is an approval that comes first, in other words, before the temptations in the desert, before the miracles in Galilee, before the trials in Jerusalem. Approval precedes them all. Christ did not spend his ministry trying to earn his Father’s approval. It was his from the beginning, and this is no coincidence. He was free to love others, independent of the answers they might give him.
Perhaps you had wonderful parents, and if so, praise God! But even those who have grown up in supportive, loving households will find themselves asking these questions from time to time. No one’s parents are God, after all. (The Onion once produced a hilarious article entitled, “Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults.”) But if your upbringing was not what you would have asked for, if the answers you received were tentative, know that God’s response to you is not. He responds to you the way He did to His own son: “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” His approval comes before our strivings and successes and failures, not after them. It is not contingent on performance. This is the kind of Father he is. Regardless of how you feel about yourself, and regardless of what your accomplishments say or don’t say, your Father is well pleased with you.
So where are you asking the question today? Is anyone asking you the question? Where are you looking for your answers? Today you’ve found one.