Funny thing about life before parenting, and even life before you’ve had the chance to parent a challenging child. You can be really smug thinking you’re a pretty decent person, that you’re good at loving and good at forgiving. You may glimpse a bit of less-than-awesome lurking in there, but it’s still possible to fool yourself that most of the time all is fairly decent inside that heart of yours.
And then. Challenge comes.
Maybe it’s a defiant kid. Or a wounded one. One who struggles with anxiety, and shows it by trying to control everything, including you. Or maybe it’s not even a child. Maybe it’s a teen. Maybe it’s a spouse who hurts you, challenges you to the core. And you find yourself looking at a person in your life whom you’ve promised to love, whom you’ve been called to love, whom you desperately WANT to love.
But instead of love, if you’re being honest, you sometimes feeling pretty much the opposite. Sometimes you’re even acting pretty much the opposite.
And all of a sudden you’re face to face with just how bankrupt that heart of yours can be, when you’re running on your own power.
Because real love isn’t the kind that only loves someone who’s smiling sweetly back at you and agreeing that all your ideas are stellar. Real love carries on, reaches out, gently directs, shows kindness, even in the face of rejection. Yes, there is a place for limit-setting too– some situations where you legitimately need to say, ‘No more’. But real love keeps seeing the struggling soul inside that person who’s hurt you. Real love keeps being willing to go to the cross daily for that person.
I can’t love like that on my own. I can only do it with the power of Jesus in my life. And even then, imperfectly.
In the past, there were times I judged people who were struggling to love those around them. It seemed so obvious to me what they should be doing. Lose that grudge. Love your kid. Love your spouse. Forgive your friend.
Except, wow, that job is exhausting some days.
These days, thanks to the hard bits of my own life, there’s a new compassion in me for folks struggling to love well. Life is hard. Relationships are hard. We’d all be better off if we judged less and forgave more. Offered grace more freely, especially when folks don’t deserve it. We’re all going to hit those hard moments when we need someone else to reach out with more grace than we deserve, and love us in spite of ourselves.
And sometimes the person I most need to forgive is myself. Yes, I can do all things, but ONLY through Christ who strengthens me. And the wonderful thing about Jesus is that He’s always there to pick me up when I get foolish and try to walk on that water all by myself.