Each Monday morning, I meet with a group of fellow moms for a couple of hours to catch up, commiserate, pray together, share advice, and study some aspect of the Bible. This Moms Group has often served as a necessary lifeline over the past three years. It has also served as a very reliable source of coffee.
I could ramble on about all the ways this group has been so important to me – friendships formed, meals delivered, childcare offered, lots of hard-earned tips and ideas shared. And maybe I will, someday, since it has certainly – and perhaps unexpectedly – become one of my treasures. But today I want to write about something I learned from a book that we worked through together during the Fall.
One of the last chapters of this book (called Gospel Love) develops an idea that I’ve come to call entering in. We have to enter into the world that someone who is “hard to love” inhabits. This idea has changed and challenged much of the way that I love. The book states:
We are called to a life of incarnational love, a love that enters the world of others – understanding their needs, their pain, their situation – and then brings grace through words and deeds.
We are to love in this way because it is the way we want to be loved. And we are to love in this way because it is the way Christ loves us.
Christ entered in. He came to our world, as a baby, vulnerable and needy. And when he lived, he experienced the things that we do – the pain of loss, the hunger from missing a meal, the betrayal of a friend, the shame of mockery, the disappointments and brokenness of the world. He entered in.
So that’s the idea behind the book’s term “incarnational love” – because of the incarnation, because Christ became a man and entered into our world – we should love in a way that enters into the worlds of others.
The particular week that I read that chapter, I had a particular relationship in mind – someone who is hard for me to understand, empathize with, be particularly kind to, and certainly love. I felt deeply convicted. How much had I truly tried to understand this person’s needs, pain, and situation? Had my deeds (or lack thereof) brought grace?
So there’s that. And then there are my kids.
Last time, I mentioned some difficulties with my newly minted three-year-old and some sage advice from a friend. She encouraged me to expect my inevitable failures, and embrace them as opportunities. She also shared her version of “incarnational love,” which was: “empathize, empathize, empathize!”
Could incarnational love apply to my kids, too?
I’m kind of an explainer. I like information. I like to explain how things work, why they work that way, why we have to wait to cross the street, why we put the lid on the pot to make the water boil faster, why Sister wants Brother’s toy, why toasting the bread just a little bit makes it easier to spread the cream cheese.
And, for the most part, my three-year-old seems to thrive on the information. He craves it, asks for more (All. The. Time.), and is often satisfied by the resulting sense of understanding.
But when he’s truly upset about something – apparently – I should not explain. I should only enter in. I need to understand that everything is a big deal to a three-year-old. I need to understand that he feels things really strongly (you’d think I’d get that, right?). I need to understand that he needs to feel heard. Counseling 101.
So entering in doesn’t mean explaining. It doesn’t mean saying we can build another tower after the original was knocked down; it doesn’t mean that even though we just missed the train, another one is coming in three minutes. It means saying, “Oh Jacob, I’m so sorry. That must feel so frustrating. I know you are disappointed. I know it feels bad.” It means rocking or hugging him and letting him cry or kick or scream. It means inhabiting his little three-year-old world and leaving some of my 35-year-old perspective behind.
Who knew? I need to love my kids just like I need to love the other people in my life – and it’s all just like Jesus loved us. By entering in.