“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory.” 1 Peter 4:13
As a Christian we are called to love. Love others as yourself. Love. Love. Love. I would pound that word into my students, into my kids, into my fellow believers. Every conversation in which Christ was a topic would be interwoven with the word love. But how often do we fail to really get at the depth of what love is? I don’t mean the pretty part of love, the love is patient and kind, it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and everything else that is covered in 1 Corinthians 13. We love to talk about the infamous wedding scripture on love, yet Jesus gives us the ultimate scripture regarding love in John 15:12-13 and it actually reflects death. He says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
You see, if I am really going to be honest here. I haven’t truly loved anyone other than my kids and my family in about eight years. That seems like a very specific time frame and something unorthodox for an out-loud Christian like myself to say. But if the greatest love is equitable to death of one’s being, complete sacrifice of my own needs, desires, and self. Well that sounds really similar to that word that has caused me an obscene amount of hurt, pain, and devastation in my past…vulnerability.
Eight years ago was the last time someone had access to that sacred place where damage can be done but the hope is built on trust that they never would. Only a bomb was detonated in that place of mine and it took years of a very intimate and solitude walk with God to create someone completely new in me. It’s funny that we can be on this faith walk thinking we have healed from so much and then along comes this unexpected moment that shows us we still have a lot of work to do.
I thought I had healed from that place of brokenness. Even though many of my friends and colleagues made jokes over the years that I lacked feelings. That it had to be an utter catastrophe to get a tear out of me. I would say, look guys, my spectrum of emotions has just been blown. My gauge is just a bit off compared to most. And when a few years ago my twenty year old cousin died tragically, whatever part of me was still able to feel, felt excruciating pain, and went numb after that. And yet, when I talked about love and loving others I genuinely felt as if I was being obedient to Christ. Because love as far as I was concerned was a good feeling. It was actions of goodness. I was “loving” others. I was being kind. I was serving in my church. I was feeding the homeless and helping the least of these. I wasn’t hating or judging. I was loving on and through. I was even walking out my calling to become a foster parent. I really thought that I was moving in our great commission to love.
I wasn’t. The love I was loving with was a guarded love. It wasn’t a Christ like love, it was a human coated love. It’s as if I was just handing the word love to people. Like here’s a hug, and instead of actually embracing someone, I was handing them three big letters H-U-G, and then leaving with a feeling of completion as though I had accomplished my call to “give that person a hug”. So, how did I realize this difference?
Years ago, when that bomb went off inside that sacred place somewhere within me. I would guess it’s close to your soul, maybe parallel to your heart, I stopped letting people in. I stopped being vulnerable out of fear. Why? Because I knew people had the ability to do real damage. Damage that required counseling. Damage that made me say to my therapist, “if this is an ounce of what it feels like when a woman loses her spouse than I never want to love again.” And I meant every word of it with every fiber of my being. And then when my cousin died three years ago, I stopped letting my family in. Why? Because I realized family could hurt you too. Not with purpose, but if I distanced myself from them, if I stopped calling so much and going home so often, maybe I wouldn’t ever have to feel like I can’t take a deep breath again when one of them is gone. Maybe I wouldn’t live in a world that is moving in slow motion while the rest of the world is on fast forward and I just want to scream at them because it’s like they don’t even care she died, or that she is gone, while I can’t seem to think about anything else. So that’s when I stopped letting all people in, yes, even my family. I stopped loving with vulnerability, well everyone but my kids.
But it wasn’t until this past week that I realized this shallow love I was offering was actually why God called me into foster care. Which makes way more sense because He started preparing heart years prior through children’s ministry when I was stellar in my career and way too focused on that so kids were more my nightmare than my dream (just being honest). But isn’t that how He works though? As He prepared me to fulfill His call, here I thought I was serving Him, and yet His plan all along was to get to this broken, damaged, place inside of me that He could only reach through these amazing young people I still felt safe being vulnerable with. Kids won’t damage you. They won’t reject you, and you know they will eventually go back home once their family has healed so your heart will be prepared. It was His back door into that sacred place that I had closed off.
God doesn’t ever use His callings just to benefit Him, He is God, He can handle His stuff on His own! Yet, here I am still thinking big ol’ God needs lil ol’ me to accomplish His grand plan. Lord, I’m such a work in progress!
This past Friday I was given about a thirty minute notice that one of my fosters would be leaving. It was unexpected, and not necessarily the best case scenario. I wasn’t in control. My heart wasn’t prepared. And now, I was left devastated. I could feel it, that pit in my stomach starting to form, the tears were starting to fall, and I couldn’t even talk without them coming out of my eyes. What…has…happened?
I didn’t sleep or eat for a few days and cried intermittently and as God revealed to me this entire sanctification process that was happening I was astounded at His plan for me. I was moved by His incredible love and how much He cares that He doesn’t want a single part of us left messy or broken. Not one stone left unturned. The truth was, I had refused to be vulnerable. So how could I ever love like Christ with people? How could He bring me the husband I’d been praying for? Real love, a love like Christ comes with the chance of real suffering, and when we participate in that suffering we then know we also participated in His love! So yes, I sat in my hurt, I sat in my pain, but I also sat rejoicing and praising God for giving me this opportunity to love someone in such a short amount of time with a love that was so raw and pure and genuine that it was able to cut me so deeply. That I was able to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and that He was able to use them to show me why vulnerability is a requirement of love. Because if there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend, than I cannot guard and protect myself at the same time, those two things contradict each other. I cannot love and worry about getting hurt. I must love deeply and without bounds. I must love and not care if I am judged or rejected, AND THAT is the most vulnerable kind of love. So many of us are damaged, broken people who are terrified of loving vulnerably. Yet Christ has called us to love in just that way. In fact, He says, there is no greater love, than to love that way. A love like Christ requires risk, and yes you may get hurt, but in that hurt you will be sharing in His suffering, and in that suffering there is joy. Praise God!