“Hey, how was your day buddy?”

After a long pause, his little voice answered back, “It was okay. I got on red again. My teacher didn’t send a note this time.”

“Okay buddy.”

“Do you still love me even though I’m on red?”

“Yes, I still love you. I will always love you, no matter what, on the green days and the red days.”

“Okay! Then tomorrow I will be off the charts!”

We exchanged giggles and I turned right at the light, pulling into my neighborhood. We didn’t discuss it again; we just went on with our day. I knew where his question was coming from. Parenting this little guy can have its frustrating moments. As in, bright raspberry lipstick all over my bathroom walls where he finds my horrified discovery humorous, kind of frustrating. Moments where I must stop and just breathe until I can speak calmly, and then stoop down, look him in the eyes and give him a good dose of “parental law”. Once that smile fades and those big blue eyes begin to bubble over with tears and his head hangs low, I follow it up with a bigger dose of “parental gospel”.

“Hey buddy, I love you no matter what.”

It’s always that second word that causes him to collapse into my chest and apologize profusely. He sobs and squeezes me as tight as his little five-year-old arms can manage. I’ve also noticed that after this moment passes, he’s incredibly affectionate and clinging to my side the remainder of the day.

“Do you still love me, even if I’m on red?”

I understand this question, because it is the question that I ask of my heavenly father often. When I’ve gone off the rails yet again, it’s the only thing I want to know. Does my heavenly father still love me? What about those moments when I choose to shame my children rather than deal with their issues in a calm, rational way? Does he still love me when I run headlong into a lust filled fantasy to escape my frustrations of life? What about when I have had too much to drink, or swear in front of an elderly lady, or I’m judgmental of others? Every time I mess up and do the things I know that I shouldn’t do, I deeply long to hear that word of absolution; “I love you no matter what.” I think all perpetual sinners do.

Steve Brown says, “It is no small thing to be loved when you’re unlovable, to be forgiven the unforgivable, and to be supported when you’ve done nothing to deserve it. That’s the gospel.” I think my son would agree with Steve. When he was loved in his failure to be good at school, instead of continuing to sulk in the back seat, his heart was moved to exclaim that his behavior would be “off the charts” the following day. What he was essentially communicating to me was, “if you’re gonna love me even when I’m bad, that makes me want to be crazy good!” It doesn’t mean he will be more capable of behaving better tomorrow, it just means his heart wanted to be because he was free.

The cross is evidence that God will continue to love us no matter what. “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved! (Ephesians 2:5) When we bring our confessions of failure to God, we get to be reminded once again that he really does love us, on the days that we are bad as much as he does on those days we think we are good. When we hear that word of absolution, “I love you, no matter what”, it sets our hearts free and we long to draw even closer to our Heavenly Father. We may be better tomorrow because of it, we may not. The point of the gospel isn’t being better tomorrow than you were today, the point of the gospel is the grace of God to sinners. Grace is what causes the slap-happy gladness that comes with being told you’re loved when you don’t deserve it. It makes you clingy to the one who promised to love you radically and didn’t make it contingent on how well you behave in the first place.

That kind of love makes us shout, “then tomorrow, I’ll be off the charts!”

 

This post originally appeared here