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painting of harbor and dock

When Loving Is Hard

Jesus’ Challenge to Love Unconditionally Hits Close to Home

Garrett Soucy

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“If we want to give sight to the blind, we must be willing to do as Christ did – call them to us, and put our hands on them.” Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Two years ago a couple in our fellowship approached us. The wife, a school teacher, asked if we knew of a family that would be willing to adopt a young girl who was at a crucial point in her life as a foster child, having spent years being bounced around the system.

A year earlier, we had read George Müller’s biography to our children, and our oldest daughter had remarked, “Why don’t we use our home to take in kids who have no parents?” Our first impulse was to explain that times have changed and that the government now takes care of them. But we said, “Well, let’s pray about it.”

Now every possible objection raised it head: the exorbitant cost of adoption, the ongoing involvement of social services, the disruption a troubled child might inflict on our other children. Some advice from my boss changed our perspective. She and her husband had adopted a few children through foster care. She argued that a proper mindset required employing the economic concept of expected future return: all the trouble you endure and the devotion you invest is more than amply rewarded when they finally love and trust you, call you Dad and Mom, and carry your last name. So we said yes.

Pagans love others in order to be loved. This Darwinian exchange is not endorsed by the Son of Man.

Every day since has been a battle in our home. It seems every attempt to parent is met with rebellion and an outburst of anger and violence. Granted, it has also been the most formative and life-changing endeavor we have ever embarked upon. Still, nearly two years into the process the questions remain: What if reciprocity and gratefulness never come? What if I’ve disrupted the peace of my home, put my biological children through hell, and sacrificially loved a person only to never arrive at a future return? What if, after a two-decade investment, the relationship files bankruptcy and we never even get one good Facebook profile picture to make the macabre adventure at least appear to have been worth it all?

These are not rhetorical questions. Thankfully, they were answered by Jesus when he said that, in his kingdom, his followers throw parties specifically for people who could never reciprocate (Luke 14). Pagans love others in order to be loved. This Darwinian exchange is not endorsed by the Son of Man. Because God, the source of our love, is limitless, we should love unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. And we should have love enough for the whole world: other believers, our neighbors, and even our enemies.

One of our most consistent blind spots as humans, though, is that the enemy we may have to love is the one we are not thinking of as an enemy – that is, the ones we think we already love. We take for granted the longevity of our relationships with our family and community members. We assume that we are in it for the long haul with them, and so we can often avoid the hard act of proactively loving them and opt for the easier way of passivity – allowing our paths to be worn down into patterns of circumvention, so that we feign an appearance of peace when in actuality it is just avoidance. It is at home that we most often blur Jesus’ command to “make peace” with the enemy’s suggestion to merely “keep the peace.” Of course, as Jack Miller writes in Sonship, what is meant by “keeping the peace” is not bothering with the hard work of “making peace.”

If we open ourselves to the love that comes toward us from Jesus, and through us toward others, we will be constantly renewed and sustained.

My wife and I were wrong to think we had a right to love or not love based on the expected future return. Still, my boss rightly encouraged me: the guaranteed future return is that through all we experience we will have a much deeper love for that child, even if she never loves us back.

How do we love those who do not love us? Firstly, we love them by believing the truth that God loves us, and that we desperately need his love – not only to sustain us but also to spend on others. Secondly, we love those who do not love us by disbelieving that we are in any way capable of this task apart from the love of Christ. The only way I can ever possibly obey Jesus and love people who hate me is if I am perpetually abiding in a love relationship with Jesus. Apart from him I can do absolutely nothing (John 15).

At times the prospect of parenting such a child for the next decade and a half is overwhelming, especially if the context continues to remain the same. I sometimes feel a little like a spouse looking ahead at an entire lifetime in a loveless marriage. Thankfully, we have not been given that mountain of years; we are only given one day at a time.

In the end, it is not about whether or not we are ever loved, but whether or not we have been loved to begin with. Our lives will culminate in despair and exhaustion if we allow them to be focused on ourselves. If, on the other hand, we open ourselves to the love that comes toward us from Jesus, and through us toward others, we will be constantly renewed and sustained, that in the end, he might receive all the glory.

painting of boats in harbor Umberto Boccioni, Boats in Sunlight, (detail)
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Garrett Soucy is pastor of Christ the King Church in Belfast, Maine. He and his wife, Siiri, are raising six children.

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