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As believers, many of us struggle with performance orientation. We don’t live from a place of belonging and love, where we know we are accepted no matter what.
Rather, we fear dying to the world of control we have falsely come to believe guarantees us the belonging and love we crave. This fear of death blocks us from change—until real, unconditional love can reach out into all the frozen corners and set us free.
Most of us learned to perform for belonging and love as children, when our parents responded to us in ways that wrote performance into our heart.
If you are raising children, especially young children, here are a few things to keep in mind so you can do what you can to instill love and belonging in their hearts.
The Need for Love
Children need to misbehave sometimes. That’s what children are: rascals with angelic eyes and dirty skin.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of correction will drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15 NKJV)
A child’s foolishness needs to be checked by firm hands, and each child needs to be warmly held and accepted, especially when they are acting at their worst. That lets them know, “Love is unconditional.” It writes into the heart that love is a gift fully given and never lost. This kind of love creates security within the child.
But many parents use their child’s need for love to try to control them.
“I can’t love you when you act like that,” they might say.How dreadfully damaging to a child! The child starts to think, Help! I must remember what I am supposed to be! What if I can’t or won’t do it? Oh, nobody can love me. I don’t deserve it.
If they could voice it, the child would say, “I am angry. Why can’t they love me as I am, even when I am angry?” So, out of dread, they set themselves to earn love.
Another common parental response is, “Now go to your room, and when you can act like you, you can come out again.”
The translation of such a communication is, “Only the performer is acceptable here. If you don’t perform up to our standards, you will be rejected.”
Or “Leave the table! When you can come out with a smile on your face, you can be a part of the family again. We’re not going to have an old grump around here.”
But again, here’s the real message: “Love is not unconditional in this home. You are not free to express yourself honestly. You must lie and put on a hypocritical face. Then we will accept you.”
Our spirit knows better than that, but fear and the need to belong master us, so we make ourselves act out what we are not.
The Freedom to Simply Be
I grew up with this message: “A Sandford man never hits a girl.” That was a fine teaching that, to this day, I am grateful for and still live by.
But what was I to do with the part of me that wanted to wallop my sister?
Learning to check my feelings and make appropriate choices was good, but on what basis did I make such choices? Was it because of love in my heart and respect for my parents and siblings—or was it because I was afraid I wouldn’t be a Sandford if I failed? Was the fear of not belonging more of a driving factor than love?
Which motive actually governed me?
And which motive still governs me today?
A simple rule is this: Where much laughter and affection are present, children learn they are accepted no matter how well or poorly they perform. They need to be free to be.
When children who have just goofed badly can leap into their parents’ arms, and all can laugh and learn, even if discipline has to be applied, children realize, “The nasty side is also me, but it is loved and lovable too.”
Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Nowhere is that more true than in the helter-skelter of a child’s emotions. Unconditional love—not taken for granted, but often expressed—gives a child the necessary security to explore all sides of the “me” they are discovering, as well as the freedom to choose which modes to settle into, from an altogether different base than fear.
Conversely, uptight, rigid demands of behavior without affection clamp upon children manacles of control: “You will not be loved unless you can deserve it.”
Once that lie is grafted in, it becomes the governing trunk to all our fruit. All our actions flow through that stem.
Just as They Are
An infant can play peekaboo for hours and giggle every time Daddy or Mommy comes out from behind the covering. Perhaps from birth trauma into a sinful world, children tend to have a great fear of being left or rejected. A simple game of peekaboo acts out that fear and gives assurance again and again—because each time Mommy and Daddy are still there.
Even in warm, loving families, we can fear blowing the good life, fear dishonoring the family, fear that we might be unacceptable if we prove to be too different from everybody else. Generally speaking, the more coldness and rigidity in the family behavioral pattern, the more the child will wrestle with internal dread and performance.
In Jesus is found the key for true belonging and love that endure, no matter what. Success or failure in behavior is not the mark of our righteousness—He is.
A person’s spirit will be open to the accusation of the enemy until they know in the depths of their heart that, imperfect as they are, they are okay just as they are because of the Lord Jesus. As Jesus becomes their strength, their salvation, and their song, a miracle occurs and fearlessness is born.
As the parent, you can teach your child that they don’t need to be perfect in order to earn your love and acceptance. They are okay just as they are, and no matter what, you will hold them and comfort them and be there for them.
Slowly, their young heart will start to realize what love actually looks like, and they will become fearless.
This article is adapted from Transforming the Inner Man by John and Paula Sandford. To learn more about performance orientation and how it can affect the heart, click here.
More than ever, it is important for our kids to be fearless. They are facing a deluge from multiple sources that are supposed to be “safe” for them—like kids’ shows and school programs. So many unbiblical ideas are being presented as truth.
“Feel this way. Think this way. If you want to be a good person, you need to act like this.”
A fearful child is afraid to voice anything outside of what is deemed “acceptable.”
But a fearless child will go after things and dare to think outside the box. If they see something around them that is not right, they will stand up and say no. They are not afraid to say, “This is wrong!”
Kids who have a voice are not easily swayed by temptation, lies, or external pressure coming from friends, teachers, or the rest of the world. They can stand on their own—even really young children know how to do this.
This month’s article comes from Transforming the Inner Man by John and Paula Sandford, and it talks about the solution to fear—how parents can raise children who are truly fearless in today’s society.
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