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Loving When It Hurts

February 6, 2017 — 2 Comments

Have you ever purchased furniture that comes in a box? Our office is full of IKEA desks and bookshelves from the Swedish furniture titan.  As I begin each assembly, I open the manual, look at the simple pictures, and review the short list of required tools. Filled with unbridled but unfounded optimism, I naively dive into the assembly.

However, as each project unfolds, my frustration inevitably grows.  The simple pictures are never simple to follow. In fact, I’ve never reached the end of a project and thought, “That was easy!”  Each piece takes far more time to assemble than anticipated, eroding my patience to pitiful levels and causing me to mutter Swedish words.

This doesn’t just apply to furniture assembly. For many of us, when we first stepped out into the work of loving and serving others, we had a simplistic (and perhaps naïve) vision of just how easy it was going to be. Turns out, loving others is far more complicated and difficult than we originally imagined.

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a summit designed for families walking through adoption and foster care. I imagine that most of the attendees found themselves in the same place that I did: armed with the ardent conviction of our call to love and care for orphans, widows, and vulnerable children. God has been unmistakably clear in His charge to the Church to care for them. To Laurel and I, our next step seemed obvious: Kids in crisis were in need of a safe place to live, and we had room in our hearts and our home. The math was simple, and love rooted in the Gospel compelled us to respond.

But cheerful brochures with smiling children hide the reality that between those moments of giggles are a lot of tears.

Our family took a deep breath, and plunged head-first into a world of addiction, hurt, and pain. We opened up our home to provide respite care, knowing that loving people is an inherently dangerous thing to do. We genuinely believed that we were ready.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.

Our experience in welcoming a child turned into the single most painful season of our lives. I experienced fear like I’ve never felt it before. Pain and resentment became constant companions—and the most wrenching pain that I experienced was watching the people that I love the most become deeply wounded.

Here is what I’ve come to believe: There are no simple ways to love others. Love is costly. Indeed, as people invited to incarnate Christ in a broken world, if our love looks anything like Jesus’ love, it could cost us everything that we’ve got. Faithfully loving others like Jesus loves them inevitably means that you will experience hurt.

Stepping out to welcome the foreigner, protect the widow, defend the fatherless, and love our brothers and sisters living on the fringes of society isn’t comfortable or safe. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the same wild, scandalous love that once rescued us, we are called to step into the good works that God has prepared in advance for us. If you have embarked on a journey to love the vulnerable and found it to be more difficult than you imagined, do not lose heart!

How are we to respond to the pain that accompanies living lives marked by costly love?

 1. Expect that loving others is going to be hard.

Don’t believe the IKEA manual claim that the task ahead of you will be simple, or that trite explanations and simple solutions are going to fix all the problems. Real life rarely presents itself in a sanitized, comfortable way.

Instead, lean into the truth that the world is broken. We know that Jesus has won the war—but the battle rages on. We shouldn’t be surprised when life is painful. We shouldn’t be surprised when relationships are difficult. We shouldn’t be surprised when hurt people hurt us.

We are to go into our service with our eyes wide open that “in this world you will have troubles” (John 16:33).

What’s the benefit of expecting it? It helps us to more fully enter into the beautiful moments of life—the hugs, the smiles, the “I love you’s.” Enjoy these moments. Savor them. But don’t be surprised when they’re intertwined with heartbreak.

When we expect challenges, we increase our ability to savor the moments of joy and cling firmly to the second part of the verse from John’s gospel: “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

 2. Call for help.

IKEA manuals always have the same last picture: Call someone.

Pierre, a friend of mine, told me that in rural Rwanda, it’s common knowledge that you always need at least four close friends, people you can call at any time, day or night. It’s four, because that’s the number of people it takes to carry a stretcher.

Strong lifelong friendships don’t just happen; they take intentionality and commitment. Invest in the relationships that matter, and they will sustain you in all seasons of life.

When we reached out to a friend in the midst of the pain of adoption, she responded, “We are going to walk this together, and while we don’t know God’s big picture or the end result, I believe many lives will be changed and hearts will be saturated with the reality of true Kingdom loving. Don’t look ahead. Just do the next thing. Trust and obey. One loving act at a time.” In that moment, it was exactly what we needed to hear.

3. Look up. Constantly.

In moments of incredible trial, where do we fix our eyes?

  • We might look back and obsess over our past. Previous failures and “if-only” scenarios can crush us, if we let them.
  • We might look forward and fret over our future. This is especially easy when we still have questions about what is going to come in the next moment, let alone the next month or next year.
  • We might look inward and become paralyzed by our hurt.
  • We might look side-to-side and ask why other people seem to have it infinitely easier than we do.

Yet we are to be a people of hope who look up. This is not a cliché. These are true words. When life feels impossibly hard, we remember that we have nowhere else to go. As we read in Psalms 121, “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.” Look to Jesus, the One who perfectly shows us what wild, scandalous, costly, fearless love looks like in practice.

Friends, as you step out in the significant work of loving others, do it empowered by the Spirit and saturated in grace. Do it surrounded by a community of people cheering you on and supporting you. Do it knowing that God has promised to use all things, both the moments of great success and moments of heart-wrenching pain, for our good and His glory.

My hope is that we will be known as people who run to the suffering and the hurting, instead of running away. That we will stop to make time to respond to the needs all around us—even though doing so will bring both beauty and pain. That we would be prepared to live fearlessly and love boldly. And that we will continue to press into the dangerous work of loving like Jesus.

Recently I had the chance to present a webinar for Christian Alliance for Orphans on a topic I’m passionate about: the intersection between orphan care and economic development.

These two worlds rarely intersect – it’s uncommon to hear a talk about economic development at an orphan summit and unusual to hear a presentation about orphans and vulnerable children at an economic development conference. Yet these two worlds are more connected than we might initially realize.

The Bible is full of clear calls to care for the most vulnerable of society – and no one is more vulnerable than an orphan. (James 1:27 is just one of the many verses making an unmistakable call to care for the orphan.) I am passionate about adoption and an enthusiastic supporter of anyone working to ensure that children are raised in loving families.

But working for a microfinance organization, I also have a tendency to dig into the numbers. And when I did this with orphans, I was surprised by what I found. A large portion of our world’s “orphans” actually have a living parent.

Percentage of children in orphanages with one surviving parent. 

–Liberia: 98%

–Sri Lanka: 92%

–Azerbaijan: 70%

–Zimbabwe: 40%

After seeing these statistics, I realized that many orphans are actually sent to orphanages because their parents didn’t believe they could care for them. Because of poverty. These are economic orphans, not orphans where both living parents are dead.

So if we are serious about solving the orphan crisis, we also have to combat the underlying issue of poverty.

A Complementary Approach

If we want to have a substantial impact on the orphan crisis, we need to discover how to foster economic development and create job opportunities. In my work with microfinance, we discovered that when we equip entrepreneurs to expand their business, they are creating additional resources and investing these resources into their families. They are taking care of their children and others in the community. They are inconspicuously combating the orphan crisis.

International adoption can be beautiful, but to ensure that every child has a home, we must not overlook  the incredible talent and resources available in each local community. See Mama Atiya’s story.

For more information, see the following:

*Statistics taken from the Better Care Network (BCN)

*Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Reposted from When Building Orphanages Isn’t Enough.

In the below Q&A, HOPE’s president, Peter Greer, speaks about international adoption, his new book, and the intersection of microenterprise development and orphan care.

You recently spoke at the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ annual Summit at Saddleback Church. As president of HOPE, how does your work tie to the global orphan crisis?
Adoption has forever changed our family. But as powerful as international adoption is, and as much as it has changed our family, we know that it only reaches a small number of the children globally who need a home. My “day job” at HOPE helps mothers and fathers start or expand small businesses so that they can work their way out of poverty and provide for their children. My hope is that the faith-based adoption community and the faith-based development community will realize how much overlap they have in heart and desired outcomes.

What did you speak about at the conference?
According to UNICEF, there were 132 million orphans living in developing countries in 2008—132 million children dearly loved by God who need a home. But studies have also found that many children in orphanages have a surviving family member who could provide them that home. In Zimbabwe, for example, 40 percent of children in orphanages have a surviving parent, and nearly 60 percent have a contactable relative. The orphan crisis is interconnected with poverty. Parents put their children in institutional care because they don’t have enough money to care for their children. The solution isn’t building more orphanages but rather helping parents earn enough income so that they can care for their children. What parent would prefer for their child to grow up in an orphanage if they had the resources to care for them on their own? We need to broaden the discussion about the orphan crisis to include employment-based solutions that help families work their way out of poverty.

Mama Atiya

What are some examples you’ve seen of access to financial services leading to better care for orphans?
Some of the best examples I’ve seen are HOPE’s clients. I think of Mama Atiya in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was left with no resources to provide for her six children when her husband died. A $55 loan from HOPE helped Mama Atiya break into the smoked fish business. She buys fish in bulk, enabling her to offer good prices and function as a wholesaler. Two years and seven loans later, she is the proud owner of an apartment and can afford to educate all her school-aged children. But not only is she taking care of her own children, she has also adopted four children from her community. What an amazing example of low-cost, local orphan care!

You also recently published Mommy’s Heart Went POP! An Adoption Story, a children’s book on international adoption. What led you to write this book?
When my wife, Laurel, and I were in the process of adopting our son Myles from Rwanda, our daughter asked why mommy’s belly wasn’t getting bigger like so many other mommies. We used the language that adoption causes mommy’s heart to get bigger. When we finally held our son, all the love that we had been holding came pouring out, and it literally felt like mommy’s heart popped.

We discovered that there are so few resources available for families who adopt internationally. When our friend Christina Kyllonen sent us this story after we brought our son home, we felt that it needed to be shared with many more people. We have had the joy of working with friends to bring the book to life, and our hope is that it will touch many! The funds we raise through this book all go to the rubymyles fund to help other families adopt or to support local initiatives like HOPE that help bring children into homes.