Ever had a prayer request go unanswered only to be answered in dramatic fashion? I do not mean dramatic fashion as in “shout from the rooftops” but in the “not what I anticipated” fashion. A prayer request my wife and I had prayed for over many years came to pass last Spring during the Pandemic. Last May God allowed us to begin the journey of foster care. The answer took the form of three sisters all under the age of two!
It was a crazy night in which the caseworker had removed them from the home with the assistance of the police department while the family was in the middle of celebrating a birthday party. They arrived at our house filled with sugar, confusion, and tears. Thus, began our first foray into a blended family structure with caseworkers, paperwork, and parental visits.
Over the first month, I found that we struggled having children that were not our own who acted as much. Though we are raising three daughters of our own, it was as if we had no clue how to help these precious kids. Through that time, we were guided by the thought that they will settle in and we will grow as foster parents. Then an ugly monster became more apparent to my wife and me that was hindering the care these girls needed- selfishness.
Before you think awful thoughts about how I am speaking about these kids, let me clear the situation up and help you think worse thoughts…. I am talking about me…. I am talking about my wife. After the initial adjustment period, we discovered that we did not like these kids. Am I allowed to say that out loud, publicly? The natural affinity a parent would have for their own offspring was missing with these children. They do not look like us, act like us, appreciate us, or seem to want us. They enjoy biting people, destroying anything they can touch, whining, disrobing, and painting with fecal matter. An initial act of love was being tested at the crossroads of selfishness or self-denial.
Each day was a difficult grind due to the amount of care needed while dealing with our own internal struggle. Something that the Lord began to do in our hearts was to teach us, in a new way, about His love. As I struggled to love the girls and found myself frustrated, the Lord gently reminded (at times rebuked) me with this thought, “I still love you, don’t I?” It was a piercing, but merciful reminder of how unfathomable our God’s love is for us. I am a redeemed sinner that He choose to love. A significant amount of the time I am unlovely in my mind and unlovable in my deeds; yet my holy God loves me without condoning my choices.
To my brothers and sisters leading in churches everywhere, do you have some unlovely people in your life, community, and ministry? Are there some people that you struggle to minister to, love, or even want to be around? Can I gently remind us that though they are not lovely or loveable to us the Father is sufficient to enable us to minister to them? Our freedom in Christ enables us to have His love flow through us as we submit to the Holy Spirit. He fosters and produces His love in us for them (Gal. 5:1-24). No matter why they are unlovely or unlovable to us, our Father calls and enables us to enjoy His love for them.
If that is how our Father loves us:
· My view and treatment of others begins with a biblical view of them as image bearers- It seems far too easy to deal with people based upon their conduct rather than their makeup. When I am tempted to only view someone as an issue, problem, or frustration, I must agree with the Spirit’s nudging that they are created to worship God; this is what should frame my thoughts and treatment of them. If they are apart from Christ, I get to be part of the reconciliation process by letting His unconditional love flow through me to them. If they are in the family of God, I get to enjoy a bond beyond compare and watch the Spirit utilize it to draw the unbeliever.
· My view and treatment of others is informed by a biblical view of myself as a redeemed sinner- “My name is Paul, and I am a redeemed sinner” …sounds like a great support group opener. The struggle to love others is intrinsically tied to how I view myself. Am I forgiven, in Christ, redeemed, and set free? Yes! Was my sin deserving of judgment? Yes. Do I still yield to temptation and sin? Yes…but not THAT bad or like THEM! The forgiven can sometimes be the most forgetful or offendable about the heinousness of sin. To be clear, sin is contrary to our holy God and invites His just judgment. Thankfully, that same holy God is capable of forgiving profane people like you and me; such a God can grant anyone a “no condemnation” situation. Again, it seems far too easy to marginalize my Gal. 5:16-17 turmoil while exaggerating or criminalizing someone else’s. I must view myself as needy and dependent upon God, seeing myself biblically.
· My view and treatment of others is grounded by being in Christ- If all are worshippers and God is in the redeeming business, then those who are redeemed have the most opportunity and accountability with others. If I am in Christ, what do I lack to enjoy God’s love through me for others? I already noted the struggle we each face with daily temptation, but those struggles cannot invalidate the victory Jesus shared with us over sin. I must be reminded of who I am in Christ and what that enables with those around me. I am free to not view that selfish person as a nemesis. I am free to not see my fellow church member as “the problem”. I am free to not live with bitterness or cynicism towards another pastor or ministry. I am free to deny myself and seek another person’s spiritual wellbeing (Phil. 2:1-5). For the first time in my existence, I can know, experience, and enjoy real love; that is due to being alive in Christ.
· My view and treatment of others is radically changed when I pray for them- With all the above stated, I must still talk with God about those whom I do not love or want to love. Thankfully, He hears my feeble struggles and chisels my heart to match His. The times of prayer require me to ascend to the eternal plane to gain the proper spiritual perspective. I must pass by offense, anger, selfishness, and vengeance on the way up to “His will be done”. The beauty and mystery of prayer aligns me with God through faith in His Word. A great question to consider when I am struggling to love someone is, “When is the last time that I took five minutes in my day to pray exclusively for them?”
We are on the threshold of having “our daughters” for a whole year! There have been many difficult moments but those are outweighed and overshadowed by the beauty of God’s grace and gift of these three precious kids in our home. God has continued to faithfully nurture His love in our hearts and through our actions though we are frail and often pitiful. One tantrum, one mess, one broken item, and one bite mark at a time He continues to teach us about His unfathomable love. Are there still moments of confusion, even regret? Sure. Is the ugliness of my own selfishness and sin tiresome to encounter? Absolutely. Would I trade the sanctifying work God has done and is doing through this special year? No. These girls are gifts from God that will spend eternity somewhere; we have the privilege to be a conduit of His Gospel. If it is even remotely possible for them to catch any glimpse of His love through our weak vessels, God be praised.
Who have you struggled with and what has the Father taught you through it? Let me know! Paul Norton
Faith Baptist Church