After spending Christmas with my brother and his family, I’ve been confronted with some ugliness in my soul. I’m embarrassed to admit that somewhere deep inside, I still want to be the favorite child. I’m still competing for a prize good parents would never offer. And if, after 45 years of life, I still want my parents approval, maybe it’s time to make some adjustments.
In God’s good timing, my reading took me to Genesis 4 where the fight between two siblings takes center stage. In the story of Cain and Abel, both brothers bring an offering to the Lord. He grants favor to only one. Note that Scripture never indicates that God rejected Cain’s offering. In fact, the language of Genesis 4:6 indicates that God was granting Cain a do-over.
But Cain didn’t hear grace. He didn’t hear love. He didn’t hear, “You’ll get it right next time.” Instead, he perceived “I’m a failure and Abel is better than me. The Father loves Abel more. I’ll always play second fiddle to him.” Maybe Cain even accepted lies like, “I’m always the screw-up. I’ll always be the one who makes the wrong choice. I’ll never be the greatest.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us why Cain’s soul remained in the downcast position. Perhaps he was born a pessimist or melancholy in spirit. Maybe his stature made him a step behind Abel or his intelligence lacked the quick wit of his younger sibling. Maybe Abel had better hair. Maybe Cain simply needed to grow up. Cain wasn’t a toddler needing parents to cheer him on as he learned to walk. Nor was he a school-ager who needed affirmation for his efforts at learning math facts. He wasn’t a teenager who still looked for his nervously smiling parents in his rear view mirror as he headed out on his first date. He was an adult, his own man, and as such shouldn’t need the approval of parental types affirming his place as the greatest in the family.
But then again, maybe the story of Cain tells us that we never outgrow our need to be cheered on and to be unconditionally loved. Maybe the child in us always longs for someone to think our life-scribbles are works of fine art. Maybe we never outgrow the need to have parental figures cheering for us in the stands as we miss yet another goal or lose another game.
And maybe it’s time to find that kind of parent in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Maybe it’s time to quit competing with siblings and neighbors and friends and framily and co-workers to be the best or the favorite. Maybe it’s time to rest in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus will not find favor with my all of my choices, but He will always grant me favor to breathe another day.
He will not always approve of my decisions, but He will always be approachable.
He will never award me the prize of the being the greatest, but He will forever lavish me with His grace.
I don’t think I will outgrow the need for approval, but I can grow into looking for it in the right place — the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.