Ripe avocados, diced tomatoes and onions. Fresh jalapeños, lime, and a generous handful of cilantro. It was everything my husband and I craved, and we were excited because most of the ingredients are anathema to our sons. For once, we would have something entirely to ourselves—a perfect bowl of guacamole. But before I could get the first heaping chipful in my mouth, our older boy asked, “Mama, I can have some?” I tried explaining the dish was a little spicy, that he might not like it, but he gave me the usual line. “No, this my favorite.”
Our two boys are as different as biological brothers can be. The older enjoys hard work while the younger prefers to impersonate a cat in a sunbeam. Where one is shy and introverted, the other is outgoing and charming. One is nimble and strong, very “body smart,” while the other—like me, his adoptive mother—trips over his own two feet. But perhaps the greatest distinction between them is the way they approach new things.
One hesitates when faced with something novel and hangs back a bit, while the other is usually up for the experience. He’s a cockeyed optimist at the core, a kid who tra-la-las through life, enjoying each adventure that comes his way. He can say, “This my favorite” because everything literally is—even restaurants he’s never been to, movies he’s never watched, and places he’s never visited. They’re terrific, and trying them only confirms what he already believes.
In my grown-up way of thinking, there can be only one true favorite in any category. Hence, I have a favorite book (Jane Eyre), a favorite place (the beach), a favorite sport (baseball), and so on. But that limitation is as foreign as hieroglyphics to my child. Finding a new prized food or toy or game doesn’t mean the old one gets replaced. He simply makes room at the top, adds it to the list of things he loves, and keeps on trucking, totally oblivious and exceedingly joyful.
What is it about adulthood that compels us to trade in openheartedness for self-regarding pride? In Luke 9:46, the disciples discuss a topic of serious import for power-hungry adults of both the first- and 21st-century varieties—“Which of us will be greatest?” They’re itching to say, Lord, there’s going to be a hierarchy, and only a select few of us can sit on the top. So who’s it going to be? Jesus answers this question, but His response takes all their expectations and chucks them out the window: “Unless you are converted and become like children,” He says, “you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3-4).
There is no pedestal with God, no select few, no ruling class we must scramble and scrape to be part of.
With each passing day I spend with my son, I understand this command a little better. As with so much of Christianity, it sounds like utter nonsense to a so-called mature mind. Die so that we might live? Become great by being a servant? Be strong in weakness? Are you kidding me? All of it cuts against the grain of sinful flesh; it requires sacrifice and draws blood. But if we can accept it, we gain something greater than pride of place. When all the pomp and circumstance is scoured away, when we quit building ersatz kingdoms of tin and plastic jewels, the truth becomes apparent. There is no pedestal with God, no select few, no ruling class we must scramble and scrape to be part of.
You could say we’re all His favorites. But the Bible has an even better word for it: beloved.
It’s a term you’ll find scattered liberally throughout the New Testament, and each occurrence is a transliteration of the Greek word agapaó, which means “to love, to take pleasure in, or to esteem.” The apostle Paul uses it to tell us we’re “holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), “beloved children” (Eph. 5:1), and “brethren beloved by the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:13). In Jude, we are greeted as “those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1). I’m with the kid on this: Why waste time with labels like good, better, and best when one like beloved is open to all?
Why waste time with labels like good, better, and best when one like beloved is open to all?
Christians are fond of saying that “the ground is level at the foot of the cross,” but once we become members of God’s family, we sometimes forget that and begin jockeying for position. Yes, one day works will be judged and crowns given (2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Revelation 22:12). But nowhere does Scripture say there’s a “holier” neighborhood in heaven, one where the streets of gold are a little wider and Shekinah glory shines more brightly. Every inch is reserved for those who are called sons and daughters of God (Gal. 3:26). We can surrender the need for supremacy and take our place among the multitude of God’s favorites.
Photograph by Ryan Hayslip