Written By Joanna Tan, Singapore
As the youngest child, I’m often teased and called the little princess of the family. But the truth is that when I was growing up, it was often difficult for me to get my mother’s attention. I felt like my parents favored my siblings, who were both high performers in school and at church. By contrast, I was not as outstanding as them and my parents thought of me as the child who got into trouble more often than not.
Like all children, I desired to be loved, so my parents’ neglect really hurt me. I fought hard for my mother’s affections by trying to keep up with my siblings’ in school, and by doing all I could to become the “sensible child.” I made cards and gifts for my mother during special occasions and studied hard to get good grades in my studies. Yet no matter how hard I tried, my mother continued to compare me with my siblings, often telling me how I fell short. And even though I did well in school, my mother attempted to dissuade me from attending university simply because I did not match up to my siblings. No matter how hard I tried, it just wasn’t enough.
I was crushed by the futility of my efforts. But these years of trying and failing to earn my parent’s affections helped me learn to seek refuge in God. In moments of rejection, I would pour out my sadness and loneliness to God, and He was there to comfort me in my hurts. Our heavenly Father made His great love clear to me whenever I drew near to Him.
Rejected by Man, Loved by God
A few years ago, I came across the story of Leah. Leah was not the one that her husband desired, and time and again, she hoped to gain her husband’s affections by bearing sons for him. Each time, she was disappointed by the futility of her actions:
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon. Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi. She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)
Through the names that Leah chose for her first three sons, she clearly expressed her desire to be loved by her husband. But when she gave birth to her fourth son, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Instead of placing her hopes in gaining Jacob’s affections, Leah chose to surrender to God. She rested in God’s gift of a son, praising God for what He had done for her.
Like me, Leah tried hard and failed to earn another person’s affections. Through that process, she discovered the unconditional love of God—one that she did nothing to earn. This deeply comforted me, reminding me that in spite of how I was treated by my family, God always loves me. There is nothing I need to do to earn His love—I already have it!
Many years of disappointment and pain as a forgotten child drew me to our heavenly Father’s unceasing love—a love which was present even before the world (and I!) began. Unlike the love of man, God’s love is unconditional and unchanging—He loves me in spite of my flaws and failures.
Even at our worst, at those times when we can’t even love ourselves, God loves us fully. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Through Jesus Christ who has died for our sins, God has given us the privilege to be adopted as His children, and we can call him “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 3:23-4:7). Finding my identity in Christ has liberated me, because I know that He loves us regardless of who we are and what we have done.
Let Your Circumstances Drive You Towards Christ
There are indeed moments when I wish my circumstances could be different—that I could have a perfect family and perfect parents. But as I look back, I realize that my circumstances have helped me experience the depth of God’s lavish love for me. Because I did not receive the love and affection I desired growing up, I turned desperately to God’s love. It was only through the painful struggles for affection and an identity that I have found the greatest treasure in our Father’s love through Jesus Christ.
As I have grown up, I came to better understand my mother and have developed a closer relationship with her. I now love my parents not because I am trying to gain their favor, but because God loves me, and my security is in Him. In fact, because of my experiences, I have been able to encourage my sister in her struggles, reassuring her of God’s unconditional love for us!
Our heavenly Father does not give us all perfect families, jobs, health, and relationships—as can be seen in the experiences of many characters in the Bible. Yet many of these characters, as well as many Christians today, continue to love Jesus faithfully despite their imperfect circumstances, and choose to give up their all to follow Jesus. Sometimes it is through difficult and painful situations that we appreciate more deeply what Jesus has done for us, which prompts us to give all that we have unto Him.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)