A few weeks ago, I wrote about praying more to learn to worry less and live and love better. I came back from China desiring to look more like I did in Asia because the reality is I can slip back into complacency, anxiety and lovelessness quickly and imperceptibly. Did praying help?
I was recently lamenting about our international student. He was a challenge for us when he first came to live with us but eventually I began to see my prayers to love him answered subtly and strangely (see blog, Struggling to Love). Unfortunately, toward the end of the school year Joe reverted to some old behaviors. When I was complaining to a friend about this they asked why we were having him back this year. The question rocked me.
Why have we hosted international students for ten months out of the year for the last two years? I like my privacy. I like spending time with just my family on the rare occasions that actually happens. I like one less thing to do, not one more. Why were we having Joe back when it’s inconvenient and I often complain about him?
I want the answer to be to share Christ’s love and although that’s partly true, the bigger reason is I feel bad. I feel badly these students are thousands of miles from home and if we don’t host them they’ll live in apartments with other Chinese students. They probably eat cereal and pop-tarts for dinner and no one will hug, nurture or love them. That bothers me so we have, reluctantly at times, opened our home.
When I thought about all this I realized Joe had nothing to do with my lament. He did not ask to stay with us last year. He knew nothing about us. No one forced us to host him.
When I thought more about all of this I also realized, I haven’t loved Joe.
God, in his grace, brought me a long way in tolerating, liking and trying to love Joe last year, but I had not loved Joe like I loved my kids or the way I’d want someone to love them. I loved him when he deserved it and it didn’t inconvenience me. I loved him conditionally. But conditional love isn’t really love at all.
Has prayer helped me love better? Yes, but not in the warm, fuzzy way I’d hoped. I’m learning to love by having the dark, ugly places in my heart exposed. Not only had I failed to love Joe well, I believed I had.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” It’s easy for me to see duplicity in others yet totally miss my own hypocrisy. I often ask God for romantic things I think I want hoping the answer will come in a pretty package with a bow. Instead it usually comes in the form of the opportunity to merely love the people right in front of me more deeply and authentically.