Love is defined in our culture in so many wrong ways. Some equate it with a magical sensation you have between your throat and your gut. Others define it as the quality of getting physical, or a feeling of deep romantic or sexual attraction. To the world around us, love is some mystical emotion that can come and go. This is precisely why divorce is so rampant in out culture, and why families are so torn apart. If we get love wrong, our entire society is torn. In fact, it took Christ himself to come down and show us exactly what love meant, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
Love, defined biblically, is a self-sacrificing, self-giving of oneself to another expecting nothing in return (unconditional). This is not something that should come or go, but instead, it is something that should be learned, developed, and matured. That’s exactly what the Lord will do when you decide to accept the delight of being a foster/adoptive parent.
Fostering is difficult. A government agency comes into your home and makes stipulations on how you run your home. Children come into your home who you also get to love unconditionally. Children who come from abused and neglected backgrounds often come with more behavior and developmental issues as well.
There’s a lot that goes into my journey with fostering. My wife and I started as house parents at a children’s home. From there, we decided and were given the opportunity to adopt two of the children in our care. We knew we’d love to have these kids in our family forever. This forced us to move, get a new job, and get our own license to foster/adopt. We had to make several sacrifices and endure many hardships, but we are finally near the end of this adoption process.
Behavior issues, however, did not suddenly vanish. I sit here with my first grader’s behavior folder in hand. For just this month the teacher has several entries, “interrupting the class during my lesson,” “had a tough time following directions teacher gave. He had to visit another class,” “stole 5 items from breakfast line at cafe,” “was disrespectful and disruptive today,” “slapping and tackling another student,” “put a choke hold on another student,” “called another student an F****** B****.”
So we, in turn, took away all his privileges and gave him early bed time for two weeks. We filled the time he would have be doing screen time/play room time with reading and memorizing his scripture memory verses (Eph. 4:29-32). I invested an extra amount of time with him on top of our nightly family worship to hopefully assist him morally. Another week went by and we hear nothing from his school.
We assume, “finally, he’s behaving at school.” We begin to think about giving some of his privileges back. Then, I find out this week that he had an all out brawl with another student. And he would not stay in his seat. When his teacher asked him to sit down so she could do the lesson, he replied, “no way, José.” When she attempted to take him aside and talk to him, he just turned his back on her and refused to listen. I was at a loss for words, a loss of what to do.
To be quite frank, I NEVER dreamed I would have a child with these sorts of behavioral issues. I almost always respected my teachers as a child, and never even dreamed of punching someone as a child. I expected the exact same for my children. All of his classmates don’t want him in their class because they cannot concentrate! His best friend told him, “My mom says I have to stay away from you now.”
On my way home from work after finding out his behavior had not changed, I just prayed all the way home on how I could possibly deal with it. I’ve yelled at him and had to repent of it too many times in the past, the Lord has done and continues to do work on me removing that harshness far from me. I just didn’t know what to do.
While I was tucking him in at night, I just broke down weeping. Allow me to that vulnerable moment for you. I cried, “Lord, help me, I don’t know what to do. Give me wisdom.” And I turned to my kiddo still crying, “we’ve given so much for you.” Between sobs I was just searching for words to say to him. “You know, we’re going to have to take away all privileges again… I don’t know what to do.” I looked at him in the eyes, “you know I still love you, right? No matter what, I always love you.”
Unconditional love is not felt, but learned. Unconditional love does not mysteriously come to you upon a birth or placement, but it is developed by training. Unconditional love can only come from above. If fostering teaches you anything at all, it is unconditional love.
One of the verses my son is memorizing is Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God..” I was explaining to him what that meant the day before, “grieving someone is making them sad. When you sin you make the Holy Spirit feel sad. Just like I feel sad when you sin, but I’m a sinner, He is perfect; imagine how much more He feels sad.”
In the very moment I was weeping at his bedside saying “I love you no matter what,” it was as if the Holy Spirit spoke the same things to me. “Jake, I’ve given you so many good things. And still you continue to sin. You go through seasons where you heart is so hard. You continue in your rebellious ways against me, things I never even dreamed of doing. And I still love you, no matter what.”
Oh, what a wretch I am!
And Christ came to me in his word, “who existed in the form of God, yet did not count equality with God a thing to be taken advantage of, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant. And being found in the likeness of men he humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death even death on a cross.”
And “God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
And, “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, so that the one who believes in his will not perish but will have eternal life.”
And, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
I hope you see how minor my adoption story is compared to our adoption in Christ. The hardships I endured for my adoption was nothing compared to Christ taking on the very wrath of God for our sins (propitiation). No matter how often I fail and fall into sin, and there stands Satan ready to condemn me and welcome me into his kingdom of wretches, thereby also stands the Father holding out his arms ready for embrace, “I love you always, son, no matter what.” This is love, unconditional love.