Thursday, September 2, 2010

Heartbreak and Discipleship

My wife and I recently experienced what was likely the most heartbreaking moment of our lives so far. We have been fostering two very young children for about 8 months and a couple weeks ago we dropped them off with Child Protective Services to be cared for by a member of their family. While we pray that this setting will be good for them, there is still a giant hole in our home and family. Even in the midst of my own grief, I can’t help but look at things theologically and analytically. I have noticed three basic types of reactions from people when they hear about this.

One is to not see it as that big of a deal. After all, they weren’t really our kids and we knew that they might go home someday, right? And, perhaps, this is what is best for them, right? To that I respond, try pouring all our love and care into two human beings for eight months, changing their diapers, rocking them to sleep, convincing them they are loved, reading them bedtime stories, comforting them when they wake up screaming, living with them 24/7 as a part of our your family… and then say “it is not that big of a deal.” Truly it is heartbreaking. It is like losing a family member.

The second response comes from those who get that. Their response is somewhere along the line of “That is why I could never do that. I just couldn’t handle the heartbreak.” To these folks I am grateful that they understand. However, I also respond to “I just couldn’t handle the heartbreak” with “Either can we.” We are not wired in some way that enables us to process grief any faster or easier than anyone else. We are also not wired in a way to just “be okay” letting them go. But despite this, we entered into this life of possibly temporary parenthood fully aware of the possibility of heartbreak. Why?

I center my morning prayer around a little book called This Day, A Wesleyan Way of Prayer by Laurence Hull Stookey. Stookey writes on the first day of the month order:

Jesus told his followers to take up the cross daily. Contrary to common belief, the cross is not just some burden or challenge in life we cannot escape and simply must endure (such as chronic disease or being unable to find work.) Rather the cross is something we can evade, but nevertheless take it up willingly, even amid misgivings. In Gethsemane Jesus reluctantly yet willingly accepted the cross that was presented to him; thus he defined his own instructions and set the pattern for discipleship. (Stookey, This Day, Abingdon Press, p. 27)

Sometimes we decide to do something even if we can’t handle it, even if it will break our heart.

There is a third response. There are a number of people who sort of get it or realize that they don’t actually get it at all. They know it is a big deal for us but maybe they don’t understand the motivation or reasoning behind it. Those are the friends who look us in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry.”

I am getting close to the end of 39 years on the planet. I have spent only about 12 of those as a Christian. One of the most profound lessons I have learned as a follower of Jesus is that things that hurt are not necessarily bad. That is a really counterintuitive lesson. We are taught from birth to avoid pain. Pain is sometimes a signal that something is bad for us. But Jesus turned that around. He tells us in Luke Gospel (Chapter 9 vs. 23-25)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

A number of people have asked me already, “Would you do it again?” Of course we would. We need time to heal and assess but, in 2009 there were nearly 16,000 children in foster care in the state of Texas. Another 9,000 were placed outside their homes but with relatives. ( These children cry out of a safe, stable, loving place. When children cry out, God hear them and so should we. Thousands of children in the state are awaiting adoption, waiting for a family to call their own, waiting for someone to convince them that they are worth loving. Their hurt is clearly more than mine.

In the midst of my own sense of loss, I ask you to consider, what is God calling you to do even if it might hurt, even if it might be frightening, even if you are not sure how you would handle it?

Much grace and peace,


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