I have had a post percolating for awhile about finding our way to joy when we welcome pain, but I guess I’m not ready to finish that one. I’m superstitious that way. If I actually finish it, it would be like an open invitation to God to really try that theory out more than I already have. And I don’t really care to.
Aren’t we all that person saying “Jesus, turn me into a better person, someone who really understands what really matters.” “But. Er, ahem, Jesus. Please, don’t take away my health. Or my life insurance. Or my job, or my toys, or my love. Or my kids. Or my possibility for kids. Or my friends. Or my extra cash for Starbucks.” My list is much longer than that, of course. There’s a lot I want to hold tightly.
Sometimes, we’re a little like Steve Martin in the Jerk, grasping our remote controls and matches and trying to make semi-grand gestures to our invisible God. “You’re all I really need God. Well, you and my job. Okay, you and my job and my book collection. You, my job, my book collection and my car…’
We make fools of ourselves as we keep adding just more and more “one more thing” we can’t live without. And by we, I mean I. I wish I had more insight to share from the “things gone wrong” in my life-that I could turn them into some sort of folksy treasure, or say I’ve learned to hold things with a looser grip. But I haven’t. I still want stuff-my stuff. And my point? I haven’t learned yet the fine art of letting go of the stuff and the security for sitting in the dark with another person. I don’t want to. It’s dark there in the dark!
I read a book recently with the sardonic title “Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? ‘Cause I need more room for my plasma TV.” And one little scene in it has been turning about in my head for weeks. It involves a man who hangs out frequently in an intentional way with some homeless friends, but who does not have a lot of money himself. And one day, a friend asks him for help. Her electricity is out, and she hopes he’ll help her out with some funds to get the lights turned on. But he refuses. She asks again, agitated, and he refuses again. “I can’t,” he explains, “I don’t have money to give you.” She doesn’t believe him. But he makes her this offer. “I can’t get your lights turned back on, but I’ll sit with you in the dark.”
Is there a better analogy for the way we’re meant to love each other? Sometimes, we have to let go of the things we don’t want to. Our homes, our jobs, our health, our dreams, our very lives. And there is no one to turn the lights on for us. Not a single person to make the bad thing better. Sometimes, we desperately want to turn the lights on for someone else. To restore something back to the way it was, or should be. But we can’t. Instead, we have to learn how to sit with someone else in the dark. It may not get better. And it is SO HARD to do that. To sit there too. With no solution, no better plan. Just… the dark.
It’s incredible to think that even Jesus wanted someone to do this for him. The night before his crucifixion, in the garden of Gethsemane, he asked his best friends, men who knew he was facing his death, to “keep watch for me.” And yet, when he came back not more than an hour later, he found them asleep. Asleep! You almost have to laugh, thinking about it. Because how LAME were Peter, James and John? These so called giants of Christian faith couldn’t or wouldn’t sit with Jesus for an hour in the darkest dark of his life. And he longed for them too. He schooled them about it! “So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?” he said to them. Imagine how he may have said it to them. Hurt, disbelieving, disappointed. This happens three times. Jesus is facing the darkest night of his life, and comes right out and asks his friends-BE here for me. And they weren’t!
There’s two things that God with his unconditional love wants us to understand. 1.) He has sat alone in the dark. He knows it is terrible and lonely. 2.) We need to try and stay awake during other people’s dark nights. We need to learn to tolerate them. To leave our matches and remote controls behind, in pursuit of something greater. I still suck at this. I aspire not to, but I do.
And this brings me to my second recent pondering. Adoption. Your adoption.
I actually read a blog titled “I hate adoption” today. It was written from the point of view of a “biological” child and sibling to “adoptees.” Excuse my snotty use of quotes. I do of course mean to be offensive, but you still could excuse me if you feel you need to. It is the authors’ opinion that God dislikes adoption. That it represents the brokenness of humanity, and emptiness, and some other things. She lost me right here. It is fair to say that grafting a family together is challenging and difficult, and that many of the reasons resulting in children needing to be adopted are hateful. But adoption is not. And God does not hate it. He LOVES it. He invented an entire love story out of being the groom to the church, his bride. And just like he did when he sat in a garden weeping for his impending doom while his best friends snored around him, he gave us a story to explain something to us.
For some reason, it seems lost on many people that we are almost all adopted. We talk about “adoptees” in they terms-like something out there with Ebola and President Business. But most of us are adoptees of one kind or another. Any person who has ever married into a family is ADOPTED. Yes, you. You have new brothers and sisters whose birthdays you really should try and remember, and whose customs you must try and understand. You may not have picked them, but they are yours. You do not share their blood, but you are related now. Some of us have friends who live down the street and send their kids over when the electricity goes out, or friends who cry over our troubles faster than we can. When you have friends like that, you’ve been adopted. Someone made you their sister, and even if a year goes by without talking, or you move out of state or your marriage breaks up, its Pinocchio and Velveteen Rabbit real. You are loved without degree.
I hate to admit it. Because I have a sister I share a set of parents with, and I feel pretty possessive of her. But in my absence, someone else grafted her and her kids into their family. So I have to share. And it would be small minded and petty to call it anything other than what it is. Adoption. A word so bold and beautiful that God uses it for us. He does not claim us as his second best children, or his projects or his ministry. His claims us as HIS. And he is willing to sit in the dark for us. And he expects us to do the same for the people we loved and ADOPTED into our lives. If your lights are on while your brother’s are off, and you can invite him over, all the better. But sometimes, there’s just nothing to give but ourselves. It’s easy to make distinction for the children that are grafted into new families with fully formed baggage and personalities as uniquely challenging and outside the “real” family nucleus. But we all have baggage, we’re all uniquely challenging to those who love us most. We’re almost all adopted. And if you’re not, it’s time to take stock. Get adopted. Find someone who’s willing to figure out your personal weird, and make a little room for you. We all need someone who will someday sit in the dark with us when we need it most. We need family for that. And you can never really have too much family. I know. I have sat in the dark a time or two. I’ve had to ask for my share of favors. And favors are the stuff of family. You don’t ask your Facebook friends for the big stuff. You don’t open the door to the general public on your messy house and your broken heart. And if you happen to have a friend who lets you see that stuff, the magic has happened. You’re adopted.
My very favorite viewing pleasure is catching up on old episodes of “Parenthood,” the tv series that follows the highs and lows of the fictional Braverman family. And just last week, a favorite character who was divorcing “out” of the family tried to come and say a heartfelt goodbye to the Patriarch of the family, his soon to be “ex”‘s father, Zeke. But Zeke won’t have it. Because he understands the full power of adoption. He tells his son in-law ‘When I took you into this family, you became my son.” When you are in the family, you’re in it forever. And that includes spouses. It’s something our culture would do well to acknowledge. If you ever hear a news story about an “interrupted” or “failed” adoption of a child, it’s almost always accompanied by some scandal and disgust. Because everybody seems to feel pretty strongly that you don’t take a child into your family and then KICK them out again. EVEN when they’re terribly challenging and damaged. Some part of our heart knows that, and yet we treat the every day occurrence of divorce like it’s a normal, perfectly understandable course of action. It’s hard to know if this is the symptom or cause. Maybe if we really, really understood adoption, we’d do a better job of seeing our spouses’ foibles and perceived failings through that lens of love. The lens that says you’re entirely other and different from me-different blood, different background, different culture, but you’re grafted in, and tearing you off would break the whole tree.
We need to learn a new approach. Something different from interrupted or failed adoption. Something different from returning malfunctioning children back to the sender, and aging parents to the care center. Some things aren’t fixable. Some things are cold, and dark and painful. And the easiest thing is running away from those things towards the nearest well-lit house. But the real heroes are the people who have learned the fine art is sitting in the darkness without recoil. That’s all Jesus ever asked for himself. It’s the lesson I’m here to learn.