Called to Love and to Loss

I just said good-bye to another of my foster kids a few days ago. Thankfully, I am happy about where this precious little baby went, and am even hopeful that I will get to hear how he is doing in the future. That is not always the case. Yet, there is still a loss—I loved deeply; I gave of myself, my time, my energy, my sleep, my reserves to nurture and nourish the precious little life; I noticed the beautiful intricacies of this child, and I loved them; I listened for his breathing at night. I cuddled and sang and prayed over him.  So upload_-132there is loss.

But is loss really all bad? When people ask me how do I do it…how do I let go of these foster kids?  Maybe the answer is “because I am called to.” I need to walk the road God has laid out before me.  How did I walk down this path? One step at a time.  So what exactly is it I am called to?  I am called to love.  And not just to the point I am comfortable with, but beyond it.  Why?  Because that is what Christ did for me, and because His love is better than life…  I am one of the many needy, broken people that he was willing to endure deep loss for, so that I might have relationship with him, the giver of life.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Paul says of love that it “Bears all things…endures all things” (I Cor 13:7). Those words carry with them the concept that love means moving into and through hard things, not avoiding them or spending my energy trying not to be stretched too much in my relationships. Yet, why should I embrace this kind of love that sounds exhausting and (let’s face it) rather costly? Because it is worth the cost.

I have found such beauty in the midst of loss. I have cried with college students that have come from such profound loss that I cannot fathom it. Some of the most beautiful women I know (both inside and out) have been through so much hurt—and they have shown me God the comforter as I have clung to Him with them, in ways I could not have know Him on my own.  It is in those very moments of entering into that loss with them that I have also felt closest to those women and I believe they have felt my love most sincerely. By engaging on that level, I show them that I am not afraid to enter the hard places, even though it hurts. When I do this, it deepens me and it widens my heart; it is like deep waters in my soul that I didn’t know were there.

We have so much more capacity for love than we realize.

But it is even more than capacity for love—when we choose sacrifice and risk loss, it opens a deeper connection to Jesus, including closeness to him and comfort from him.  When we mourn and walk in brokenness, he is close to us.  Matthew 5:4 says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” And Psalm 34:18 reveals that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” What amazing promises!

Isaiah 61:1-3 has also taken on new meaning when I have chosen to engage in the hard places. Notably, in Luke 4, Jesus applies the first part of the Isaiah passage to himself as the Messiah, so this is not just speaking of the prophet Isaiah….  In fact, if we call ourselves Jesus’ followers, then we should be imitating him in these things as well (proclaiming the good news; binding up the brokenhearted). Notice that this involves both speaking about good news AND acting with compassion, so we must not ignore either word or deed.  Then verse three draws some contrasts to show us what God provides:

“…to comfort all who mourn, to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.”

A brief observation: In life, I have noticed that how I value and understand certain statements changes based upon my perspective and experiences.  For example, years ago I would have said “what beautiful poetry” and “how awesome that God gives us such goodness,” letting it remain abstract and vague.  Now, however, when I hear “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,” I think of more concrete images. I think of a beautiful smile of trust in a child’s face whose trust had been crushed and broken by those he had tried to trust before in his life. I think of the hope of unconditional acceptance in the face of a young woman who never knew sacrificial love before meeting Christ and experiencing a healthy family’s care. When I hear “the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit,” I think of a young woman who used to be afraid to speak up about anything, but who is now praising God as her refuge and strength, and encouraging other women who are struggling.

I give God praise and glory so much more when I actually see the power of his transforming work in real people’s lives.  My perspective on the power of those words and my awe at the true giver of comfort and life have drastically deepened—all because I chose to take little steps towards potential pain and loss instead of away from it.

And guess what?  In the process, I have seen my own sinfulness and brokenness more profoundly too. This has been an added blessing for me because it means I have started to allow God to tear down my pride and have learned to receive his mercy and grace in my own broken places more readily.

So what are we called to? I may ruffle some feathers here, but I believe many of us are called to risk loss and to willingly move towards brokenness in others (and even in ourselves) more often than we want to admit. It is hard; it can be uncomfortable.  But it is worth it.

I am not saying everyone is called to foster care—I have been, and I praise God for the path He has me on.  There are many other ways to engage as well, and I have many amazing friends that are involved in all variety of these—e.g., mentoring youth, counselling the emotionally hurting, pursuing racial reconciliation, caring for the homeless, helping victims of domestic violence, fighting injustice on behalf of victims of trafficking, etc.  Whatever the engagement might be, I believe we are all called to draw near to the brokenhearted.

Any student of Christ can see exemplified in his life a deep love and compassion for the brokenhearted.  He said that he came to serve (Mk 10:45). He also had compassion on the crowds and on the sick and needy (Mt 9:35-36).  And he said that those who wish to follow him must be willing to set aside everything else to follow him and do his work (Lk 14:33) (keep in mind, of course, that this is not a condition to receive his love, but a reaction to experiencing it and being in his presence).  That is a hard call—to value nothing over him; to be willing to follow him anywhere; to hold everything else loosely, with an open hand. Really?  Yes, really—even if our neighbors, colleagues, family members, financial advisors, or friends are telling us we should hold on tight to that one thing (insert particular bit of wisdom that, while not bad, can become a problem if it drowns out God’s call)…

The only thing…the true one thing that matters…that I need to keep my eyes fixed upon and turn to as the source of life and peace…is Jesus.

We have many idols in our culture, but comfort is an incredibly dangerous one.  Overly valuing comfort is loving the world, which those of us who claim to follow Christ are warned against (1 Jn 2:15). When we let fear of losing our safety and comfort and control over our lives creep in and dominate our emotions and choices, we miss out on God’s call in our lives; we miss out on amazing depth in relationships; we miss out on so much joy. It is idolatry…

I still have to struggle against this myself—I am exhorting myself as much as anyone.  I have way more clothes and things than I need, and yet I often want more.  I often want to protect my kids from relational and physical pain (even though I know I can’t totally do so), but often they learn the most by walking through it.  I have fears that come up about how complicated getting involved in “messiness” makes life, and sometimes I wish I could just focus on myself instead of everyone else all the time—but deep down I know that self-focus never leads to contentment.  So what do I do?  I am still learning. But I think I first have to notice my tendencies to get my values mixed up. Then I have to make the consistent CHOICE to take little steps to continue to pursue what God has called me to, and to not let the desire for my and my family’s “comfort” get in the way of that.

I pray that God would continue to give me strength for each step. And I continue to trust that he has good for us (in his presence there is fullness of joy), both in this life and in the life to come. For the moment, we will trust God, serve where we are, and wait for our next foster placement.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; In him my heart trusts, and I am helped; My heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” Psalm 28:7

We look ahead with hope, and we treasure the past—loss and all—for how it has shaped us and shown us the true meaning of love.