Forgive Us Our Self-Interested Love

Jesus’ generous sacrifice calls us far beyond our own inclinations.

“I could never do what you do. I would love the fostered children too much to ever let them go.” I hear this a lot. And when I do, I often feel a bit angry. At the heart of this sentiment—albeit from well-meaning, friendly people—there seems to be a fundamentally misplaced understanding of love.

First, this response could be interpreted to assume some pretty sad things about the love I have for the foster children in my care. It could come across like these people see me as a cold-hearted automaton who doesn’t get emotionally attached or invested. But the reality is that it breaks my heart to hear about the traumas each child I’ve cared for has endured. The truth is that every single time I hand a child over to his permanent family, a gut-twisting wrench of grief tears through me.

Second, this response seems, in some ways, to reveal a flawed understanding of the nature of love itself. It’s an approach to love that is so afraid of getting hurt it doesn’t get involved at all. The implication is that this sort of love would rather leave broken children without any homes than risk bringing heartache into one’s own home. It’s a love that is focused on self-preservation. It’s a love that thinks first and foremost about one’s own well-being and ends up justifying inaction in the face of injustice.

In our own individual ways, we are all susceptible to this sort of self-interested love. Left to our own devices, we humans naturally gravitate toward self-preservation. And, unfortunately, I believe this faulty understanding of love has infiltrated the church.

While we may believe that our standard of love comes from our understanding of the Cross, sadly there is much …

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