The Snare of Misguided Love

In my own weird, thoroughly jacked-up manner, I really do love my family, and my love for them penetrates my soul at a deep level. God has been very faithful to give me this crazy blended family and has gone over the top in blessing me with a wife who doubles as my best friend along with seven children (hers, mine, ours, and “others”). I love and pray for all of them each and every day.

As my heart has ever-so-gradually been pulled away from self-absorbed, worldly interests and become more invested in the lives of these others, though, I have found some of the words of Christ calling us to a commitment to Himself more and more challenging with every passing year.

To put it simply, the deepest longing of my heart is to stand as a friend of Jesus on That Great Day with my wife and all seven of the kids we love so deeply. Yes, I understand fully that we will not marry or be given in marriage in eternity (Matthew 22:30), but my heart is such that I long for God to at least set things up so Shelly and I are living in the same New Jerusalem ZIP code. And the same can be said for each of our children.

As much as I care for my wife and kids, however, I know all too well that I am called to give my primary allegiance to Jesus. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that if we love our spouse and/or kids more than we love Him, we do not belong to Him (Matthew 10:35-37), and we should seriously begin to question our salvation (Matthew 7:21-23).

Never is this allegiance more sorely tested, I’ve found, than when someone we deeply love chooses to turn their back on Christ and deny the faith. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that the temptation is strong to start thinking crazy thoughts such as, “I can’t imagine how Heaven will be any good if this person is not there. How could a loving God call me to share eternity with Him…and deny me this person I love?”

Working for The Crossing in the context of separation and divorce ministries, I hear others give voice to this sort of thinking all the time. While this emotional response – particularly in the aftermath of separation – is entirely understandable and reveals a true heart of deep love and concern, the problem is that it often simultaneously reveals a heart that longs more for the presence of another person in their lives than the presence of God Himself.

As I write these blogs week after week, the faces and stories of people I know float in and out of my awareness. Oftentimes I will stop to pray for them along the lines of Ephesians 1, my desire being that they would know Christ personally, and that they would seek His Kingdom above everything else, that their hearts would be willing to “let goods and kindred go,” if necessary, to be found “in Christ” and to become a blessing to others through that one, all-consuming relationship.

My heart goes out to anyone who has had to do just that, letting go of the hand of someone they dearly love in order to be faithful and obedient to Christ. I speak again from personal experience in saying that nothing is more painful than to consider that a loved one who has chosen darkness may very well never come back to the light, but it is in that moment of separation that God pours out his grace upon us by the bucketful, blessing our pain with the knowledge and assurance that He is in control of every event, large or small, and is doing an infinitely better job of reconciling all of creation to His love than we could ever even begin to imagine.

While I am still learning much about how God has been unleashing His Kingdom in this world ever since Jesus inaugurated the renewal of all things with His resurrection, one thing I know for sure: God rewards those who set aside all earthly concerns and follow Him, regardless of cost. In the simplest-possible terms, and at the risk of being overly obvious, the words of Christ in Matthew 6:33 are “true truth.” Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these “other things” will be added to you.

Does it hurt to let go of someone and “give them over” to the path they have chosen, when that path takes them away from us? Yeah, it really, really does hurt. As Christians, though, we need to accept the obvious truth that we are not God, and that God is working something out that we can scarcely imagine. Easier said than done, I know! How hard it is to stand at the crossroads and watch as our loved one takes a fork in the road, choosing a different path than the one that Christ is calling us to follow with Him. Instead of following hard after Jesus, the temptation is strong to stand at the intersection, calling after Jesus to slow down a bit while we beg and plead with the person we care about so deeply.

But Jesus will have none of that. We are instructed simply to “Follow!” He knows that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), and He also knows that the single greatest blessing we can offer to the individuals in our lives is to cling even tighter to Christ and give Him our requests, day after painful day, trusting Him to work all things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:6-7).

The mistake we make far too often is to think that the love we are providing to another human being is in any way, shape or form “better” than the plan that has been mapped out for that individual from before the foundations of the earth were laid. In a sense, refusing to follow Christ unless and until someone else agrees to go down that road with us is tantamount to making that individual more central to life than Christ Himself. (For helping that ugly truth finally stick to my soul, I am deeply indebted to Tim Keller for his book, Counterfeit Gods.)

Loving the Lord means loving both His mercies and His discipline, for us and for others. The level to which we will trust Him often shows up in our level of willingness to surrender our loved ones to His good plan. I cannot count the number of times I have advised hurting individuals to take their eyes off of their loved ones and set their gaze firmly on Christ, trusting that He will not lose anyone whom He has chosen (John 10:27-30, Romans 8:38-39).

I do not offer that advice to others lightly.

Please remember, I too have a family that I love, and I too know how much faith it takes to trust God with their very lives. There have been plenty of days that began with me preaching that truth to my own heart the instant that the morning alarm goes off: “Lord, help my heart to understand and accept your word, especially those words that cause me so much distress. Amen.”

Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Luke 14:26-27 (ESV)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

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