In the circus the animals are rewarded for their acceptable behavior. They are trained to perform, and as such, they receive something favorable and good in return.
Thankfully, we aren’t God’s circus animals. He doesn’t work like that with us. Rather, His kindness leads to repentance. It’s His unconditional love and goodness towards us even at our worst times that is so profound and precious.
For God so loved the world…and His love flows freely to us even when we weren’t necessarily loving Him back.
We see this played out in the story of the prodigal son as well – and we can’t overlook, the father not only loved his wandering and wild son, but he also walked towards, in love, to his self righteous and judgmental son. In this story, and illustration of God’s love for us, we witness an unconditional love that flowed to both boys freely, with great anticipation, and with enduring hope.
Sadly, it can appear nearly impossible to know this kind of untainted love from people around us, and if we’re brutally honest, how well are we loving others this way? For it’s definitely easier to be lovingly toward the kind, repentant, well-behaved, and complicit.
As such, we can often times feel a bit like circus animals. Being trained and training others to perform and behave in certain ways in order to receive kindness and some version of “love”.
Maybe it’s being trained to be the constant comforter, like a lap pet. Always working to ensure the other person is okay emotionally. Weighted by the fact that if they are not, life can be miserable for all.
Or, we feel we must perform to always be the “good” one in order to win approvals. I have even heard it said in some ministry circles, that there are “green light” kids, and “red light” kids. The green lights are well behaved and know their Bible verses – and the “red light” kids, well, they tend to be the opposite.
But where is the compassion for the heart in all of this? Could it be it’s more about how we are being made to feel? The green light kids may be “well trained” and valuing approvals, but how are their hearts? And the red light kids? They may be begging to know unconditional love – or perhaps they feel consumed elsewhere to always provide comfort to an all-consuming force in their life that causes them to feel the need to “act out” in order to to build a protective barrier around themselves so not to be completely consumed.
Who knows, and these are just potential examples, but I do know labels can be misguided, and often hurtful to the healing of our hearts.
I understand this, for I recall acting out as a way to give myself some sort of freedom and refuge from the expectation of having to perform as the good, comforting, responsible, and dutiful male. When in reality, I feared I couldn’t measure up, would drop the ball, and fail to win the approvals I was trained to desire.
I was rewarded for good behavior of course, and for being a good comforter, but at such a young age, this created a sense of desperation and suffocation from the subconscious obligations I felt were cast upon me. So, I would act out, almost as a cry for freedom and escape, but alas, the older I became, this rebellion towards my earlier “training” only led me towards nearly self destructing.
Like the prodigal, I was running due to deeper issues, and it was at my lowest point when I realized there had to be a better way, and in desperation I turned to my Father, Jesus.
His love overwhelmed me, without judgment, without conditions, without obligations, and He began to heal my heart. His truth set me free from the chains that held me to the circus. For His yoke is easy and burden light.
It’s an ongoing process of course, and there is always a temptation to be lured back into the circus ring, and to believe the lie that love and acceptance is merely conditional based upon my performance, and how well I make others feel.
However, I now know what unconditional love feels and looks like. The challenge of course is to offer it and allow it to flow freely from me to others. Like it does from my Father in heaven. For He looks upon the crowds and each of us with compassion.
Also, I do not want to train my own kids, or spouse, to be circus acts and lap pets in order to win my favor, love, and acceptance. Sadly, in the beginning, I fear this is all I knew and was passing it down unknowingly, and unconsciously, like it was most likely passed down for generations before me.
But this pattern can be and is being broken, and my desire is for my family to know without a doubt that my love is and will be unconditional, unwavering, and consistent, without any ties to circus acts – just like the father’s love for both his prodigal and his prideful son, and of course, like our heavenly Father’s love for each of us.