No Matter What: Helping Kids Break Free From Performance

I think back to watching my three-year-old daughter in her first of many ballet recitals. We sat for a very long time to watch her float and twirl around the stage for about three minutes. I hardly remember her dance, but I’ll never forget what she said immediately after the recital. We hugged her and told her she was wonderful and then she looked straight at me and said, “where are my flowers?”

We were rookie parents in this game of watching our kids perform and had no idea we were supposed to bring flowers or a reward for her. We don’t forget the flowers now, but it made me begin to think about our children and all the emphasis that the world places on their performance and achievements.

By now, with my children getting older, we have watched many “performances,” from football, piano, voice, guitar, musicals, school programs, and even the report cards they bring home. As a parent you can recognize that feeling when your child is on the stage or the field: they want you to see them and be proud of them and you want them to do well and be successful. We want our kids to succeed at all they do, and our desires for our kids to do well, perform well, and succeed are not bad desires. But our focus as parents can be turned from these performances and achievements to pointing them to life lessons and more importantly towards Christ.

While their successes shouldn’t be measured by the standards of the world, sadly at times they will be. This is heartbreaking, but it’s our job as parents to shift this focus and teach them to rest in God’s everlasting love and acceptance. There is nothing they can do to earn that love and no matter what His love will not change. This is grace, and this is the gospel. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The lyrics from the song “No Matter What” by Ryan Stevenson resonate so deeply with me:

No matter what you’ve done,

you can’t erase his Love,

nothing can change it,

you’re not separated,

you’re still a daughter, you’re still a son.

No Matter What.

My daughter is a perfectionist. She tells me how she is afraid of failure and she’s only eleven. So, this is the truth I tell her over and over: You are loved. Nothing you do or don’t do can change that. I want her to grow up knowing and believing this Truth. I want her to know that she is fully loved, and God’s love is never based on those achievements and performance.

The Gospel points us away from ourselves and we can teach the same to our kids.

Process Over Performance

Over the years of watching my kids perform (and many more to come), I have wondered if we were putting too much emphasis on what they were doing instead of how they were doing. Mistakes happen when we focus solely on the performance and not the process that gets us there. The process or time it takes to get to the performance can be where God teaches our children. God’s not finished with us yet, and he’s not done with our children. We have this promise in Philippians, “that he who began a good work in (them) will carry it on to completion.” When the pressures of performance and achievement are removed, our kids are free to increase in wisdom, to grow into the man or woman God created them to be. I admit that sometimes I forget they are still children and have much growing up to do.

Point Our Children to God

As parents we can point them to glorify God in all that they do. There is so much pressure on our kids and their activities. I have caught myself asking children, “what do you do?”  A friend shared with me that she wrote this verse from 1 Corinthians on her son’s bathroom mirror, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” I must ask myself, am I pointing my children to glorify God in all that they do or to please those around them or even me? So, what they do or don’t do is not the focus, but the focus shifts to glorifying God, their Maker and Redeemer. We often crave the approval of men and the world rather than seeking the approval of our loving heavenly Father because the world looks at man on the outside and God looks at the heart.

Point Our Children to Others

As believing parents we can also point them away from themselves and instead point them towards others. Watching my middle schooler play football without much playing time, I encourage him to focus on being part of the team. To be honest, I have to fight against my own flesh that wants my kid to be the star sometimes. We all want the glory for ourselves, but God tells us in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” In a culture where our children can be the center of attention and almost worshiped by parents, God tells us otherwise. In other words, it’s not all about you.

These truths can be tough to live out as parents in a world that loves to place our worth and value in our works and performances. But we must teach our children that their worth does not come from the world, their performances, or even us as their parents. It comes from the Lord. And God doesn’t need our performances, he needs our hearts. We are called to run the race of life fixing our eyes on Christ and we can truly “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:14), knowing the truth that His eternal reward is the greatest reward of all.

Jennifer Sheppard lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband Lee and their son and two daughters. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Family Studies and then a Masters in Education from Samford University. After teaching school for several years, she is now a stay at home mom. She volunteers at church and her children’s schools and leads a small group bible study for youth girls. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising and spending time with friends and family.

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