e sat eagerly, anxiously on the edge of chairs in an orphanage director’s office in the Siberian countryside. Finally a skinny soon-to-be-nine-year-old with a buzz cut walked in shyly, averting our eyes but then overcome with curiosity—a few quick glances of suspicion.
We looked at this little stranger and then at each other, silently communicating our puzzlement: he doesn’t look anything like the photo we received. Perhaps he had grown a bit. Or maybe we weren’t seeing straight after two overnight flights and a several-hour car ride. A photo and the names of two brothers. That’s all we had to go on. We smiled and waited a few minutes until a six-year-old joined us: cute, active, but again we noted little resemblance to the photo.
You might guess, by this point the photo didn’t really matter. For a few hours we were meeting in the flesh with the boys who would become our sons. Six months later we would return to Russia to complete the adoption process and mark a significant life transition.
We were both fairly content forty-something singles when we married. After the initial steep learning curve on living out the marriage covenant, we decided to add a couple of school-aged children to the household. This means that in less than three years, Allison went from being a condo-dwelling, frequently traveling professional single to a suburban homemaker and full-time mother of Russian-speaking elementary schoolers. Steve’s transition was less dramatic but not without challenges.
Now, several perspective-giving years later, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned and how God is working in us personally.
Our relatively quick middle-aged transition into marriage and parenthood was an especially effective magnifier of indwelling sin that was easier to mask or ignore when we were single. Although various previous experiences had graciously aided in exposing our sinfulness, we now saw it from new perspectives. Having both completed two years of the C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows Program shortly before our marriage, we’d read extensively about the sin that so easily entangles. Now the reality was hitting harder.
For me (Steve), marriage revealed my bent toward self-centeredness—my failing to notice and be sensitive to my wife’s needs and desires; resisting impingements on my schedule; avoiding involvement with other people’s issues except when convenient; hesitating to involve others in my decision-making processes; fighting bitterness for having to limit or give up some of the good things I was involved in. I had long considered Philippians 2:3–6 to be one of my favorite passages:
In humility consider others better than yourselves . . . Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing . . .1
Would this still prove to be a favorite when tested more intensely, by marriage and then by children?
Serving our family full time, Allison became aware of her reliance on the ego strokes gained in the workplace and how her professional status had become a critical source of her significance. Moving from a “competent” employee to an “incompetent” mom revealed new emotional weaknesses and fears. Second Corinthians 12:9 took on a deeper, more personal meaning: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
For both of us, uncharacteristic anger and impatience were triggered by the boys’ typically childish behavior. What had happened to the 1 Corinthians 13 love that is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs?
At root, the changes in our circumstances helped us see more clearly where our affections really lay, how much we loved ourselves—our positions, our comfort, how others responded to us, our perception of what others thought of us—to the detriment of loving God and others.
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