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As we encountered more hour-by-hour opportunities to put others’ interests in front of our own, we saw more occasions to be discouraged by our repeated failures as well as more incentive to call out to God for help and trust His nudges toward self-forgetting love.
Knowing, Doing, Loving
Both of us, somewhat introverted, naturally gravitated toward relatively routine, ordered lives that kept the untidiness of relationships at a comfortable distance. Of course, in our marriage this pattern became impossible when dealing with each other and even less possible after being graced with two sons, one of whom is temperamentally our polar opposite in his ability to engage others in the moment. These past few years have definitely brought increasing opportunities to experience the enmeshed relationship of knowing, doing, and loving.
We think back to our first trip to Russia with the names of two boys and a photo. While we’ve heard about adoptive parents who fell in love with their soon-to-be kids after seeing a photo, we can’t say that happened to us. (And a good thing we didn’t. About a year after being in our home, our older son, flipping through a picture book, asked, “Why do you have a picture of Max and his brother from the orphanage?” “Well, we were told that Max in that photo was you.” “No way. And his brother was totally crazy!”)
We suppose it’s possible to develop fairly strong feelings from a photo, but falling in love with the picture is not the same as loving the flesh-and-blood person. You can make a commitment to love that person, and you could even initiate loving deeds from a distance. We had sent toys and cards with nice words to these boys in the photo. But love could deepen only through being with these boys, tending their wounds, hearing their laughter, holding their hands, engaging with their personalities. And the test of whether the commitment to love would persevere was whether we would continue to pursue what is best for them after knowing them in the flesh. Experiential knowledge allows a deeper love but can also expose the shallowness of what we think love is.
Although we made a commitment to love these boys after that brief and awkward interaction on our first trip to Russia, tests to that commitment came quickly. With little ability to communicate with them, sharing no common life experiences, seeing no resemblance to us in them, our first days as an adoptive family felt more like full-time babysitting than affectionate parenting. But we worked at putting our commitment into action, sometimes willingly and successfully, at other times with “an attitude.” We tried to understand what it was like for our sons to be suddenly immersed into a totally new culture and language with strangers as parents, grandparents, and cousins; we tried to understand the sources of their fears and frustrations, what communicated love and security to them, what helped them see their own need for Christ. The more the commitment was worked out in action, the more the knowledge grew, and as the knowledge grew, the love was deeper, the affections developed, bringing more joy to the acts of love.
This reminds us of what Jesus said as recorded in John 14:21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” Love is evidenced by obedience to what we know. And as we obey, the relationship deepens, more is known, and love increases. As we’ve experienced this to some degree in our family life, we want to keep asking: Is my knowledge of God and His commands increasing so that my love can deepen? Or do I just love a photo of God? And is that photo I have even a correct photo? Am I consistently obeying what I do know, practicing the disciplines and engaging with His followers in ways that allow the knowledge to grow? Am I embracing the circumstances God has woven so I can know Him better and love Him more deeply? “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11).
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