“Write something about love,” said my editor.
Oh sure. That’ll be easy (extreme sarcasm). Should I write about how I’ve failed in love? Or how I’ve been disappointed by it? Take your pick. I’ve got a lot of material to draw on.
This isn’t to say I don’t have a loving family. I do. It’s just that despite appearances, my life is one of the messier ones you’ll encounter. I’ve had problems with accepting love and with loving. I struggle both with abandonment and with attachment. (Be grateful you do’t live with me.) There are reasons for all of this.
Over breakfast, my friend and I were discussing my strange life story. I’d been adopted as an infant, and only recently did I discover that in addition to my large and passionately loving family I have another branch—nay, an entire tree—on the other side of the ocean. As it turns out, I have at least seven siblings in Europe. To them, I’m the foreign guy.
That’s kind of cool, but much of the story is painful. My birth father’s first two marriages ended badly, and his older children had difficult lives. At least a couple of those kids aren’t from wives; they’re from girlfriends. Girlfriends who were abandoned. I’m the result of one of those relationships. Messy, no? But not unusual.
When my Swiss relatives (most of whom are thrilled at finding me) recall my birth father, they say what a wonderful man he was. They talk about his energy, his talent, his passion, his sense of humor. “Everyone loved him,” they say. But their praise comes with a caveat. “Of course he had problems,” they’ll add.
It’s odd to me how I was protected from all of that. But there’s even more to think about. My birth mother, returning to the USA heartbroken and pregnant, gave me up for adoption. Given the era (1960), that may have been her only option.
But not really. There was another option. She was an RN. She lived in Europe for a year. She had some money. And she was in a problem pregnancy. My mom could have made me go away. No one in the USA ever needed to know about me.
She didn’t make me “go away.” In a love I can only call heroic, she gave me away. And that has made all the difference.
As my second oldest brother, a recovering heroin addict, told me, “Even though it’s bad we didn’t know each other for so many years, I think your life is much better this way.”
Which causes me to ask, of course, why did God protect me from and through all of that?
“Love never asks why,” my breakfast friend told me. “It just receives.”
I asked him to explain. He noted how God gives and receives, but never takes. God the Father gives honor to God the Son, who in turn gives honor to both the Father and to the Holy Spirit. And God, of course, gives all good things to us. God is the only one who can love us perfectly. Why? Why does God love us unconditionally?
Love doesn’t ask why. It just humbly receives. Please note the quantum difference between receiving and taking.
Many people who have been romantically pursued come to understand the danger in the words “I love you.” Too often the words merely mean, “I want to take something valuable from you.” Or sometimes they mean, “I desperately need you to need me.” Both are distortions of love. Because of this, we find it difficult to accept genuine love—or even to recognize it. Peter, a follower of Jesus, had some trouble with that.
In the writings of John the disciple, we catch a glimpse of real love—and how his friend Peter learned what it looks like. John traces the hours before Jesus went to the cross in history’s ultimate act of love. Jesus assured his disciples, “I will not abandon you as orphans.”1 He promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”2
Jesus also gave them this promise: “Since I live, you will also live.”3
Hours after hearing this wonderful comfort, Peter would betray Jesus’s profound love by denying he even knew him. It would take weeks for Peter to begin to grasp the scope—indeed, the sheer inevitability—of Jesus’s love. As they stood on the shore of Galilee, Jesus asked him three times, “Simon [Peter] son of John, do you love me?” Stung by the three-fold repetition of Jesus’s piercing question and the fresh memory of his own failure, Peter could only say, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus’s answer for the ages: “Then feed my sheep.”4
The recipient of real love doesn”t need to ask why. In fact, it’s insulting to do so. But we do have an obligation to the one who loves us perfectly. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”5 He added, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.”6
God plucked me out of a bad situation and placed me into a much better one. I have a birth mom who loved me enough to give life to me. I have a Father who placed this solitary kid in a great big loving family.7 I grew up with great parents who gave me a chance in life. I didn’t do anything to earn any of that.
I don’t need to ask why. I just need to accept it, and then, to give love in return.
See Psalm 68:5–6