Kathy Harrison, in her honest and moving book, Another Place at the Table:
“It comes as no surprise that finding families willing to open their doors to the rigors of foster parenting is so hard. Fostering means knowing about things most of us would prefer to forget. It means recognizing that our best is often not good enough. It means only knowing the difficult beginnings of a story and being forced to imagine the end. It means loving children who will ultimately leave us, then drying our tears and letting ourselves love again.”
What an apt description of the kind of life and the kind of love that the Gospel requires of us, in response to the love God has given to us in Christ. It is not, of course, that the Gospel requires foster parenting for all, or even that it is only those who know the Gospel who can be good foster parents.
But it is true that the Gospel calls us all to a life of the kind of love Harrison describes: to a love that faces the gritty realities of sin (in ourselves and in others) which we would much rather forget; a love that makes demands of us which reveal the absolute inadequacy of our “best” efforts; that leads us out on a difficult beginning, trusting God to control the ending; and that calls us to love when and until our hearts break, and then in the grace God gives, to love, and love, and love again.
Poet Christian Wiman:
“There are other moments, too, which are simply moments of life. Simply! I think of the poet Paul Eluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” I have 3-year-old twin daughters. It would be disingenuous in the extreme for me to pretend that they don’t at times drive all thought of God out of my head and make me want to write a series of sonnets in praise of celibacy, but it would be equally insane for me not to acknowledge that they are the source of my greatest happiness. Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov, defines hell as “the inability to love.” I have known that hell, and I should probably spend my remaining days thanking God that I am free of it.”
When my wife was pregnant for the first time, a friend who had just the year before had his first child, was trying to tell me how great it was to have kids. He said, “It’s amazing. You are filled with so much love.”
I’ve since thought many times of the simple, surprising truth in this: that one of the greatest graces in life (what makes parenthood so “amazing”) is not anything your children give you or do for you. Rather, it is the gift of being filled full of love for someone else. (And of course, you need not have children to know this kind of other-focused love.)
To learn this is to somehow draw near to the beating heart of all reality. To never learn this – to never know this – is an unspeakable loss.
Eugene Peterson, quoted by Carolyn Custis James:
“Giving…is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies – to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves…afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of giving…and the longer we wait the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.”
Rodney Stark, in his book Cities of God:
the Christianization of the [Roman] empire was not the result of ‘reactions to public calamity,’ but to religious influences per se. That is, religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!
…The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and ‘When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.’ These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created ‘a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.’
It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin.