I kiss my daughter goodbye before she leaves for school, “And sis?” She looks back at me. “Remember, I love you more than a number.”
I started saying this years ago to my first born when he started Kindergarten, because at the young age of five, he was given a number every day at school - a measuring stick - based on his daily behavior.
I assert that our children are labeled with numbers far younger than age 5, but this was the first time it was constantly in our face. A “1” meant his behavior was very poor that day, and a “5” meant his behavior was exceptional.
As a rookie mom, I’d get so frustrated with him (and with myself) because he knew better. I saw my child’s actions as a personal reflection, and often as a personal insult to my parenting. My heart aches admitting that now, but I thought it was unacceptable for my son to behave like a one or two.
I didn’t realize then that this behavior chart was just the beginning of all the ways my children would be measured throughout their lives.
During this time, not only was I extremely critical and rigid toward my son’s behavior, I was equally harsh within myself as a mom.
Yet with God’s mercy, sage mothers’ wisdom, and a great deal of forgiveness, I now know that my child’s worth is not a reflection of me (or my parenting). My child is worthy, because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God.
My child’s successes are not a positive reflection of my perfect parenting, nor are his failures a negative reflection of my imperfect mothering.
Which is why half way into my son’s Kindergarten year I adopted this phrase: “I love you more than a number”. And it stuck. All my children hear this from me.
So, when my nervous 6-year-old daughter left for school one morning, and I knew she was anxious about her test, I made sure she knew I loved her more than her test score.
I imagine my little itty bitty kids in those itty bitty desks worrying or feeling anxious because of a test score or a low behavior marking. I hurt knowing they carry this little weight with them all day long wondering if they will “get in trouble at home.”
My hope is that the more they hear me say I love them more than fill-in-the-blank, the more their hearts will learn to let those labels and scores roll right off them. I want them to know regardless of their success or failure that they are loved!
And for as much as I agonize over my children knowing this truth that I love them and God loves them, I fail to extend this same grace to myself.
As moms we want to mend the hurt, pick up the pieces, and help carry the burdens of our children. Yet do we give ourselves the same kind of care? As moms we want our children to know how much we love them, no matter what, and yet don’t we put the most stringent conditions on ourselves?
How often have I rejected the love of the Father because I forget that I am lovable even when I fill-in-the-blank. Ironically, one moment I can tell my children that there is nothing they can do to go outside my love for them, and in the next I can be internally ripping myself apart for a mistake I made or an anxiety I’m holding onto - I don’t love myself more than a “number”.
How often I forget that God’s love is unconditional.
Each summer for the past five years I have competed in an outdoor fitness competition called CG Games. (It’s basically like Field Day times a million, plus it’s during the Texas heat.)
This competition is a way for athletes to test their skills against other competitors nationally. I train hard for this, and each year no matter how strong I get physically, it’s my mental game that I have to train the most.
Because at the age of 36, I have cried big ole crocodile tears over the pressure I put on myself about my performance. I think I’m not good enough and succumb to other self deprecating thoughts about myself. Truth is, I have a fear of failure.
And even though I have been in this place before, I find myself needing to be reminded again. Just like I tell my children, I say to myself (yes, out loud), “I love you more than a number, Stef.”
Your worth is not dependent on the time you get or the rank you achieve. Like a mother has to remind her child, I have to remind myself that I am loved more than the things I do or don’t do.
I am worthy, because God created me in His image and likeness.
I am worthy simply because I am.
My ardent prayer is that my child knows he/she is loved more than…
their height/weight/BMI percentage
the score they get on a test
the likes they get on a social media post
the number of birthday parties they are invited to
the colleges they attend
the careers they pursue
the choices they make
I want them to know I love them more!
And I can shout this with such certainty, because I have experienced this love from God the Father! And if He has shown me that He loves me more than numbers, achievements, or my mistakes and failures… then I will spend my entire life sharing that truth with my children.
Just as a mother’s love for her child isn’t dependent on what the child does or how he/she performs, God wants to remind us, His children, that His love for us is even MORE than this.
Whatever measuring stick you’re dealing with today, I encourage you to stop and imagine yourself giving this over to Jesus. Tell yourself that you are loved more than ...
the current state of your family
the number on the scale
the anxiety you carry
the balance in your savings account
the sins you have not forgiven yourself for
the mistakes you’ve made
the perfection you’re striving for
Whether your child, your spouse, or you are struggling because you’re not “measuring up”, I invite you to sit with this scripture from Isaiah and be reminded of the immeasurable love of God.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands...
(Isaiah 49:15 & 16 NIV)