Pearl had always wondered where she came from. She’d had a mother as long as she could remember but never heard about a father.
This unknowing had become her reality, but her friends wouldn’t settle for ignorance. “Who was he?” “What was he like?” “Why did he leave you and your mom?” Their questions pelted Pearl, who dented a little more each time a question thudded onto her soul.
Once she got home, Pearl began to confront her mother. “Mom,” she started — but she stopped just as quickly. “Instead she asked the question that ran below all the other questions like a deep underground river. ‘Was I wanted?’”
I was shocked when I read that question — “Was I wanted?” — in Celeste Ng’s incredible Little Fires Everywhere, because I realized I’ve been asking the same question my whole life as a non-adopted child who was raised in a loving and stable household. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.
The Question We’re All Asking
“Am I wanted?” is the question we all ask from the moment we become aware of the world and people around us. Long before we have the capacity to form the words or understand our thoughts, we sense that being wanted is the deepest source of meaning and love.
In Blade Runner 2049, “K” — the non-personal name given to Ryan Gosling’s character, who’s a human replica — is overwhelmed when he discovers he might be more than a cyborg. He might just be the first being to be born of a human and replica, something previously thought impossible.
When K returns home to his digital companion, Joi, and explains, she says, “I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.” The artificially intelligent woman knows what K is perceiving, that to be wanted is to be loved; to be wanted is to be special.
Even when God became flesh and dwelt among us, he could not escape the want — no, the need — to be wanted. And that’s good news for you and me.
From the Father’s House to the Jordan River
The Christian faith tells us that Jesus Christ was the fully divine yet fully human Son of God, who came to earth to conquer sin and death and usher in the Kingdom of God. It was clear from his youth that he rightly understood his father to be the Father. After a family visit to Jerusalem, the center of his Jewish world, his parents were horrified to realize the 12-year-old Jesus wasn’t in their caravan.
After turning back to look for him, they found the boy in the temple, at the feet of the Jewish teachers. “His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress. And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:48-49).
More than 15 years later, Jesus was ready to change the world forever by explaining just what it meant to be in his Father’s house. He was about 30 years old and ready to begin his rabbinic ministry. But before he did, his Father knew there was one more thing his Son must know if he was going to endure in his ministry and accomplish his mission.
Jesus, being completely obedient to the teaching and will of his Father, requested baptism at the hands of his eccentric cousin, John. At first, John was understandably perplexed, believing himself to need cleansing at the hands of his divine cousin. But then he consented, plunging Jesus into the Jordan River.
‘With You I am Well Pleased’
After Jesus’ face broke the water’s surface, his Father answered the question his Son had never asked but needed the answer to nonetheless. “The Holy Spirit descended on [Jesus] in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:22).
Jesus knew he was born to die for the sins of others. And he knew he was about to start a three-year journey toward the excruciating torture of a Roman cross. Sensing his Son’s inner need for affirmation and acceptance, his Father — at just the right time — told him, “You are my son. You are wanted. Loved. Special!”
Not long before he bore that cross, Jesus grabbed a few of his closest disciples and headed up a mountain to be nourished in his Father. Once up the mountain, his disciples witnessed something so astonishing that they would not speak of it until after their Rabbi’s death and resurrection. In a moment of resplendent beauty and holiness, the full glory of Jesus as the Son of God shone through. It was a vision of the risen and reigning King Jesus.
But first, he must face the cross. Again, at just the right time, Jesus’ Father sensed the load on his Son and affirmed his place in the family of God: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Not only did the Father affirm his Son and remind Jesus that he was overjoyed to have him for a Son, but he acknowledged Jesus publicly, telling the others to listen to him. Jesus was wanted. Loved. Special.
Jesus would need to hear those words from his Father once more before he breathed his last.
The Father’s Silence
Condemned to death, Jesus now hung from a bloody, splintered wooden cross, held there by stakes driven through his hands and feet. Struggling to hold himself up so he could continue to breathe, Jesus moans, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). This is the perfect time for the Father to encourage his Son. The perfect time to remind Jesus that he’s suffering now but will be glorified soon.
But for the first time, the Father had no words for his Son.
“Am I wanted?” Silence. “Am I loved?” Silence. “Am I special?” Silence.
Don’t mistake the Father’s silence for his disavowal of his Son. This was quite the opposite. “Now from [noon] there was darkness over all the land until [3 p.m.]” (Matthew 26:45). The earth displayed the heavenly mood that day. The Father knew this was the only way to win back his lost treasure, but it was almost too much to bear. He turned out the lights and turned his face.
Darkness shrouded the hearts of those who had believed in this Jesus for three days, but the Father’s light soon shone forth.
With YOU I am Well Pleased
“Toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. … The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen’” (Matthew 28: 1-3, 5).
The Son rose from death by his Father’s power, proving that he was wanted, loved — special!
What does all this have to do with you, though? Jesus’ death and resurrection were about more than him. The reason Jesus suffered the agony and humiliation of the cross was for us — you and me — to experience the same loving affirmation he received from his Father. Jesus died the death we should have died, he suffered the silence we deserved to hear so that we could become sons and daughters of the Living God.
Now, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons [and daughters] of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26). If you have faith that Jesus was the Christ and that he died on the cross and was resurrected from death, you are a son or daughter of God. This means we have been joined with Christ into the family of God (Romans 8:14-17) and we inherit all the blessings the Son receives from the Father (Ephesians 1:3) — including the affirmation of our Father.
You Are Wanted
Most nights when I tuck my son and daughters into bed, I cup their little cheeks in my hands and say, “Look at me. You are my son (or daughter). I am pleased with you. I love you because you’re mine. You’re part of our family, and we love you.”
I do this because I realized that my children, like most of us, probably won’t verbalize their need to feel wanted. So I’m trying, even now, as their earthly father to lay a foundation for their identity that will one day, Lord willing, find its fulfillment in hearing their heavenly Father say, “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
Sister, if you are in Christ, hear these words from the lips of your Father, intended for you, his precious daughter: “You are my beloved daughter; with you I am well pleased.”
Brother, if you are in Christ, hear these words from the lips of your Father, intended for you, his precious son: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”
In Christ, you are wanted. Loved. Special.