Most of us have felt the pain of loving someone who has refused to love us back even if this was just the transient and loosely rooted puppy love of elementary school soap operas. There are, however, deeper loves that can leave profound scars.
When my friend and his wife followed the calling of God to begin providing foster care for infants, the fear of unrequited love was the farthest thing from their minds. Infants are not emotionally dangerous. They love you if you hold them, feed them, and de-poopify them. But my friends’ emotionally sterile plans were soon plopped into the diaper-pale of good intentions as God placed a very non-infant older girl into their home.
Things quickly got messy. Yeah … there were the typical messes that, like rotting fruit off a tree past its season, drop from every orifice and appendage of small children. Cheerios once again found their way onto the car floorboards and into previously unknown upholstery crevices. However, the messiness that really mattered was the conflicting emotions and deep attachments that rapidly began to grow in their hearts toward this child. They began to fall in love and there was no promise that she could stay.
Our love for another person is no guarantee that they will love us back, and in the messy and dysfunctional dynamics of most foster care relationships the children have an understandable reluctance to bond with their care providers. This is because foster children often feel that to love their foster parents is to betray their birth mom and dad.
This dynamic played itself out with agonizing textbook predictability between my friend and hisfoster daughter. His heart grew more and more passionately connected to her, but she consistently held him at arms-length, always looking back to her old life. He was genuinely ready to die for her, but she treated him with a vacillating indifference. Though life with her birth parents involved a lot of terrible junk, she never stopped desiring to go back “home.”
The children did indeed go back to their birth home. It was while my friend was sitting in the passenger seat of my van this past June reflecting on the love that God had grown in his heart for this child, that he unintentionally uncovered for me an analogy of God’s love for His children that has been haunting me.
I saw so much of myself in that little girl. I think we delude ourselves if we think we really know how to love unconditionally. An uncomfortable inventory of our motives will quickly reveal the mass of conditions upon which our “unconditional” love really rests.
But unlike our fickle and self-seeking love, God really knows how to love passionately and unconditionally. Our Heavenly Father loved us while we were still at war with him. Even after we are adopted into His family, having received the new hearts and spiritual clothes that accompany that adoption, we, like this little foster care girl, long for the old life. It doesn’t matter how terrible the old existence was and how much better it is to be in the home of our heavenly father, we want our old life and our old loves.
Thank God that in Him we can see the perfect unconditional love of a father toward his children. God grant us the eyes to see the blessing of our forever family and the ability to cease longing for the old lives that only promise the same hurt and disappointment that afflicted us when we used to belong to them.