When our Chinese student had been with us for only a short time, we realized he was…different. Unlike his Chinese peers, Joe was more into being social and popular than studying. He struggled to listen, follow rules and wake up on time. After my dad’s heart attack, I wasn’t sure I was going to have the time (or patience) needed to parent Joe well. I eventually decided several weeks ago to start praying four words, every morning:
Help me love Joe.
I already liked Joe. He’s funny, polite and endearing. He likes my cooking, puts his dishes in the dishwasher and loves worship music. But when he’d talk back or was on his phone instead of doing homework (after I’d just told him to get off his phone and do his homework), my love-o-meter malfunctioned. I became increasingly irritated by any little thing he did or failed to do that wasn’t remotely…perfect.
At last night’s wrestling match, Joe’s opponent was ginormous. I was sick from nervousness, but then had a thought. I’m sure it wasn’t one of those “Spirit-inspired” thoughts I often talk about because the violence of it surprised even me: “If that boy hurts Joe, I’ll kill him.” I’m not sure how a slightly out-of-shape middle-aged woman could so much as lay a finger on a teenage wrestler who resembled the hulk, but I had apparently lost all rational thinking at this point.
When we got home from wrestling, Joe was frantically trying to do laundry. It was late and another load was going, so I told Joe I’d do it. When you’re in high school at our house, Mom doesn’t do your laundry (strike one). This morning Joe overslept (again), so I ran down and woke him up. When you’re in high school at our house, Mom doesn’t wake you up (strike two). Then before strike three, I realized something. I wasn’t mad or frustrated about the laundry or him over-sleeping. I realized my only threatening thoughts regarding Joe recently, had been directed toward hulk boy if he hurt Joe. This morning I realized…
I love Joe.
Two months ago, I would’ve loved Joe too…if he would’ve been “better.” If he would’ve studied and listened. Today I realized Joe still isn’t into homework, his room is still messy and I’m certain his phone has actually morphed into an appendage, but I love him. So what changed? The same thing that recently changed for me in understanding God’s love.
Tim Keller says we hope our performance leads to a verdict; that our good behavior will help us go to heaven and earn God’s approval. But Keller says at the cross, Christ already gave the verdict: we are loved and forgiven.
That verdict now leads us to perform, but not the other way around.
I believe that, but don’t. I know that, but forget. I want to love like Christ loves me, but I need to ask God for help.
And when He helps, in his reverse economy, I do nothing and He changes and fills my heart to overflowing.