I typically listen to audiobooks on my way to and from work. This morning was no different, but I finished a chapter each for both my current "Improvement Reading" and "Entertainment Reading" books with plenty of time left in my commute. So I put my extremely non-specific "I like this" playlist on shuffle. As I sang along with an enthusiasm that seldom sticks around if others are present, a song popped up that I haven't listened to in a while: Oh, Bravo by Children 18:3, a Christian rock band whose name is a reference to:

Matthew 18:3 (ESV)
...and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The song's lyrics tell of a young child that is waiting their turn to perform in a talent show. As each other child finishes their performance, they are greeted by loud cheers of, "Bravo!" and told how fantastic and talented they are.

But when the singer finishes and leaves the stage, they do so "with bitter tears of shame," overcome by the dread that they are nothing but a failure. As I sang along with the song, I rediscovered how powerful it was to me the first time I heard it. As the words of that verse left my mouth, my eyes filled with tears.

There's a part of me—a much larger part than I'd care to admit—that is very much still the little boy who watched other kids playing with their fathers and thought, "Why don't I get that? What's wrong with me that I don't deserve that?" It's the same little boy that tried his best to prove to everyone that he had a right to exist but that never seemed to measure up to the self-inflicted, ever-rising standards of exactly what that meant.

In the song, the child turns a corner and runs into their father. Instead of multiple loud voices, his version of the chorus is sung with a single, gentle voice:

Oh, bravo! You're the best; you're my only one.
Oh, bravo! That will always be enough.
Look at me: your song was beautiful. Beautiful!
And even if nobody ever knows, bravo!

Growing up, the voice of disapproval in my head was always my earthly father's. Without meaning to allow it to, his voice also became God's. I've healed a lot, but I still have trouble trusting that God could ever be pleased with me and my efforts.

But parents rarely go to a children's talent show expecting greatness. They go because they want to see their children use their gifts. Regardless of any fumbling, flat notes, or missteps, they are proud. Just like those parents, God's approval isn't based on the quality of our performance but on who He is and who we are to Him. He sees us try. He sees us succeed or fail. And he says, "Bravo!"

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