It is a scene that plays out in foster and adoptive families over and over. Parents tearfully share stories about the children they welcome into their families rejecting their love. It’s especially painful when, no matter the child’s age, they stiff-arm every effort a parent gives to help them feel loved and find healing.
This past Sunday the pastor at my church quoted from a book by Dr. David Benner—Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Spiritual Journey). First as I listened, I identified in my own life the ways I struggle with surrendering to love. Then I began to listen through the lens of my experience as a foster and adoptive dad.
I bought the book and began reading, and I can see clearly how many of my son’s actions—His high need for control; his overly cautious tendencies; his need to be with one of us all the time, yet struggling with trusting us with his deepest thoughts; His desire to be the center of attention and to always be right, the first, and the best—point to one thing.
They are all manifestations of fear.
Thankfully these days most foster or adoptive parents understand that our kids live in a chronic state of fear. The challenge we have is not always recognizing that many of our kid’s actions are fear-based. Even if we accurately identify it, we struggle with knowing how to help them overcome that fear.
So here is the paradox we face. We bring them into our family because we want to show them true love and help them heal whether they are in our family for a few days or forever. Yet often that love is met with a shove.
What is it that they are afraid of exactly?
They are afraid of our love, even if they don’t consciously understand what they are doing.
They are afraid we won’t always be there for them. That we will give up on them. That we will not come back. Even though they desperately want to believe that we truly will be their forever family or will help them heal from the wounds in their life.
So they shove us away. They test our love. They control. They manipulate. They do everything except one thing.
Wait. What? Yes, surrender. To accept our love for them, really accept it, they have to surrender to our love.
That is how Dr. Benner puts it, and I agree with that assessment. Because I have the same struggle.
When I look at my own struggle and fear of surrendering to Love, I can better understand a child who has been wounded, some over and over. Hopefully this gives me a deeper compassion and understanding, but it doesn’t always.
Benner reminds us that Perfect Love casts out Fear. Yes that is out of the Bible—1 John 4:18. In case you aren’t aware, you nor I are perfect love.
God is Perfect Love.
He “always moves in because He always loves.” He never recoils, sets conditions, or moves on. We are the ones who do that to Him.
Why did I move from our kids rejecting our love to how God loves us? Because this is the answer. If we get a grasp on God’s perfect love for us…and our struggle to accept it, freely without us having to earn it…then we will begin to love our kids and understand them better even when they reject our love.
So…if you find yourself offended or just perplexed or even angry about your child resisting your efforts to love them (I find myself here way too often), may I suggest we take a step back and examine how well we accept God’s love for us. The better we learn how to receive God’s unconditional love for us, the better we will be at loving our kids the same way. We will learn how to keep moving in to their lives even when they try to push us out, because that how God responds to us. We won’t give up then because we have seen how God hasn’t given up on us.
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