September 9, 2016

When Love Runs Out

I have so much love to give!  When people ask you why you became a foster parent, that might be your answer.  Because I have so much love to give!  As if somehow you have more love than anyone else.  As if, in some miraculous way, your heart is bigger than average.

It doesn’t take long for you to realize, however, that commenting on how much love you have is only half the answer.   Or maybe, if you’re truly honest, is not the right answer at all.  You understand now that what you really mean is, I became a foster parent because I thought I had so much love to give . . . and because I wanted a child to love me back. 

Is that so wrong?  To give and expect something in return?  To smile and be rewarded with a sweet grin in response?  To open your arms and feel little arms squeezing you back?

It’s not wrong, necessarily.  It’s human.  You were made to give and receive, to love and be loved.  To feel satisfaction from knowing that someone adores you as much as you adore him.

So what happens when it’s not reciprocal?  When you give and love and reach and smile and extend and offer, and you get nothing in return?  What happens when love runs out?

Your smile is met with a scowl or distant stare, or is ignored altogether.  You prepare his favorite foods to eat, and when you give it to him he barely looks at you.  You see him playing with his racecars and think, this seems like a great opportunity to bond.  You sit on the floor next to him, pick up the toy car nearest you and make the vrooooom sound, hoping to make him laugh.  Instead, he grabs his cars, quickly stuffs them into his pockets, and turns his back on you, as if you were trying to steal his fun instead of share it.  What all this means is, I don’t trust you.  Your love is too scary, and I just can’t risk it.

The disconnect is understandable when a foster child first comes.  He is hurt and terrified and confused, and you are pretty much a stranger.  More than that, you are the enemy who has taken him away from everything familiar.  But then days and then weeks and then months go by, and over and over again your efforts to love him fall flat.  Or worse, you stand there battling resentment as he offers that beautiful smile and sweet hand wave to complete strangers passing by.  And everything in you is seething when they say to you, Oh, what a happy child!  He’s so friendly!

Really?!  Why doesn’t he understand that it’s you, not these people he’s never met before, that love him?  That it’s you who willingly and joyfully provides for his every need and are fully committed to him?  That it’s you who would lay down your life for him if it ever came to that?  Why would he be seeking a connection with someone else, when everything he could possibly need, the one person who will always have his best interest at heart, can be found standing right here next to him?

Eventually, discouragement gets the best of you, and are tempted to give up, wondering what’s the point of continuing this one-sided relationship.  Unless in some miraculous way your heart is bigger than average, inevitably your love runs out.

So what do you do?  When your heart feels drained all the way to empty and you have nothing left to give, how do you press on?

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another,
for love comes from God. . . This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us.   
(1 John 4:7,10)

The reason you became a foster parent, as it turns it out, is not because you have so much love to give.  It is because God has so much love to give!  He is the One who fills your heart so completely and extravagantly, that it overflows onto that kid who now lives in your home.  Even when that kid who lives in your home gives nothing in return.  Your love doesn’t come from an extraordinary heart.  It comes from an extraordinary God!

God showed how much He loved us by sending His
one and only Son into the world so that we might have
eternal life through Him.  (1 John 4:9)

Love isn’t always a feeling.  It’s a decision.  A choice to do.  A choice to give.  Just as God demonstrated His love by sending His Son, you can make a choice too.  The choice to show love, to act in affectionate, tender, kind ways, even if you don’t feel like it.  That doesn’t make it fake.  On the contrary, your loving actions prove that your love is real. 

Love isn’t always easy.  Think about it.  You were once that disconnected, distant, lonely child.  Defiant even.  You snatched your proverbial toys and turned your back on Him, as if He was trying to steal your joy instead of being the source of it.   You sought fulfillment and satisfaction from temporary earthly promises, when everything you could possibly need, the One who will always have your best interest at heart, could be found standing right there next to you!  And what you meant was, I don’t trust you.  Your love is too scary, and I just can’t risk it.

Did He give up?  Did He decide to pursue someone else, some more worthy and appreciative, someone who would love Him as fully as He loves?  No.  He chose you!

As God made a plan, purposing in His heart to reach you, He wasn’t just inconvenienced a little bit.  He made the ultimate sacrifice, sending His one and only Son into the world.  He died a horrific death.  All so that He could call you His beloved child!

We know how much God loves us,
 and we have put our trust in His love.  (1 John 4:16)

You didn’t have to be good enough or prove yourself capable enough or perform well enough.  All you had to do was trust in His love.  Receive it and believe it, and “see what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).  He loved you, not with a reluctant act of obligation.  It’s a gift, freely available to you.  All you need to do is trust that it can be yours. 

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . We love each other because He loved us first.  (1 John 4:11, 19)

Loving this child that has been placed in your family may indeed be one of the most difficult challenges you will ever face.  But it pales in comparison to what your Father has already done for you.

He lavishes His love on you, giving and loving and reaching and extending and offering.  Each day He pours his unfailing love upon you.  (Psalm 42:8).   His love never runs out! 

It’s all about His love.  You don’t have to miraculously generate enough love that goes against everything your conflicted and confused emotions are telling you.  Love is a response.  When you truly understand how much God loves you, how much He continues to love you, it is the overflow of that love that pours out onto this child.  The only way you can press on, the only possibly reason you have to not give up, is because He first loved you.

But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. . . And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. 
(1 John 4:12, 17)

It’s easy to love the ones who love you back.  It’s a joy to reach for a child who is reaching for you.  It’s rewarding and fulfilling!  Anyone can do that (Luke 6:32-36).

But the ones who refuse to be loved?  The ones who take your love and throw it spitefully back in your face?  The ones who take your love and then turn and give it to someone else?  Few things can be more frustrating and disheartening.

Most people will just give up.  This is evident in our foster system, which is full of disrupted placements.  Foster parents giving up because it’s nearly impossible to continue on when love finally runs out.  Be the one who doesn’t quit.  The one who lets God’s love fill your heart and pour out onto this child, day after day, week after week, month after month.  However long it takes.

Here’s the thing.  Here’s what happens when you choose to love, when you demonstrate love in affectionate, tender, kind ways even when you don’t feel like it.  You find that maybe, in some miraculous way, your heart actually is bigger than average.  Not because of anything you yourself have done.  It’s just that God’s love, the abounding love that lives inside you is expanding your heart in ways you never could have expected.  As you show His love, it is “brought to full expression” and “grows more perfect.” The more you practice it, the fuller and richer and deeper and more perfect it becomes.

It becomes, then, a love that defies logic and transcends human nature.  A love that never gives up, but keeps on reaching and extending and pressing on.  It becomes a love that never runs out.

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