What allows a person to love self-sacrificially when it is difficult and painful?

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

All my regular readers know that I hold former Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann in high regard, especially because of her devotion to classical liberalism, her knowledge of economics, quitting her job to homeschool her children, and her defense of helpless unborn children. Michele also had 23 foster children stay in her home at different times, for different periods of time. Michele never went into details about the difficulties of foster mothering, but this article from The Federalist  does go into details. It turns out that being a foster parent is a lot harder than I thought.


I hear people talk sometimes about what a blessing being a foster parent is. I know many devoted advocates who encourage their friends and their relatives to sign up to become foster parents because it’s so needed and it’s such a wonderful ministry.

I don’t want to damage their work, but I need to be honest. I can’t tell people, “You should foster!” and I will never (again) try to persuade someone to foster who doesn’t feel led to do so.

[…]As I look back over the past three years and I am overwhelmed with such horrifying memories, I can’t help but think this really isn’t for everyone. This really isn’t even for me.

I think about the time my son was punched in the face by his foster brother. I remember the screaming and the blood and the ER trip that cost me over $1,000.

I remember my husband being attacked by another child. I remember that child kicking him and biting him repeatedly while I ushered my children out of the room. I remember a computer being thrown in the bathtub and destroyed, my van scratched up with the key, and so many of our things broken and ruined by children who were, for a lack of better word, untamed. I remember finding a little boy drinking water out of the toilet like a puppy and pulling down his pants in the middle of the store to pee on the floor. (He was five.)

There were the moments of insane desperation when I called our caseworker begging for help and was simply told, “If you want him removed, then I will need a few weeks.” I wasn’t asking for removal, I was asking for help.

[…]I think about how my son was told terribly inaccurate things about sex and relationships by a foster child whose father had numerous affairs with family members. My son hadn’t even heard the word “sex” before. I was forced to explain things to him that he was really too young to know. I also recall this same child trying to touch my other son inappropriately.

I have cleaned feces off the wall and off my children’s pillows when a foster child liked to act out her emotions with her poop.

[…]There is the absurd amount of money I have spent on resources for our foster children that the state was supposed to pay for, but didn’t: daycare, therapy, and counseling. I know those things are supposed to be covered. I know. Don’t tell me about how those things are covered. But somehow I have still paid an absurd amount of money for them.

Then there is the time two little boys that had my heart were removed from our home to go back with their biological family, and three months later a story was all over the news about the same boys being found naked in the middle of the road late one night throwing rocks at cars. We weren’t allowed to take them back because we already had new placements and were at capacity. I think about other children we spent so much time and energy pouring our hearts into, who went back home and within weeks returned to their old ways.

Now there is this precious little girl, that after two years of loving I must send back to a home that allowed terrible things to happen to her sister.

So, why does the author of this article do it?

She explains why:

So, why do I do it? I do it because God asked me to. I do it because in his word he told me there would be a cost to following him. I do it because God is greater than the broken foster care system and God commands the seas in ways I can’t possibly imagine. I do it because I trust in God with all my heart, and although my understanding in this moment is that this path is not worth it for anyone, God tells me not to lean on my understanding, but to trust him. I do it because someone has to, and he has asked me to, and I surrendered my heart to Jesus and his will, not my will.

[…][I]f God calls you to it, then do it. Not because of who you are, but because of who he is. You might see the blessings. You might not. But it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about him.

I think that in our society, we have sort of divorced self-sacrificial love from the worldview question. We don’t really look to marry or make friends with people who have a defined Christian worldview. We just sort of think, well, this person is or is not fun for me. Rather than thinking, this person has the character to deny themselves and their own interests and do what is right for others. A lot of times, secularists whose lives are devoid of caring self-sacrificially for others (e.g. – support for abortion) don’t realize how attacking Christianity creates a worse society. You aren’t going to find lots of people doing things like caring for difficult children in places like India, with their caste system and law of karma.

If you are the kind of person who thinks that self-sacrificial love is a good thing, then don’t expect it to be emotionally fulfilling. You won’t be happy with caring for others a lot of the time. Other people can be demanding and ungrateful. But if you want to do it, then take care to have a strong worldview that grounds this sort of self-sacrificial behavior. The foundation comes first. It is really hard for atheists to love other people self-sacrificially, without the example of Christ to make it objectively meaningful. If the universe is an accident, and you only get 80 years or so, and there is no one and nothing waiting for you when you die, and the universe itself dies by running out of usable energy (heat death of the universe), then it is not rational to care for others this way. But if Jesus himself sets the example of caring for others self-sacrificially, and you face him after you die (as judge or as friend), then suddenly doing the right thing becomes reasonable, even if it is not fulfilling and pleasurable right now.

I don’t know if non-Christians really can appreciate how Christians are motivated by the idea of following Jesus and choosing to experience the loss of personal happiness for the sake of others, just because it is a way of honoring Christ and sharing in his sufferings.

3 thoughts on “What allows a person to love self-sacrificially when it is difficult and painful?”

  1. I admire people who do this so, so much. And no, I would not be able to handle it.

    The worst part is these monstrous children are not allowed to be disciplined! (At least, that’s how it is in my state. Maybe it’s different according to state.)

    So let me get this right. You welcome these kids into your home with the best intentions. You do all you can for them. And then these ungrateful little monsters turn around and abuse you or your other children/family members, and you can’t even give them the good spanking they deserve? That’s baloney!

    Any child – especially older ones that are able to think things through – ought to be GRATEFUL that people are kind enough and selfless enough to take them in!

    This sort of thing enrages me. If I was in that situation I would be endlessly grateful that a family took me in!

    1. Yes, but from a Christian perspective, struggling with these little monsters is a nice way to experience what it must be like for God to struggle with us monsters. It’s a wonderful thing for a Christian to take pains for others who are ungrateful, that seems to me to be the essential character of God as a father, and Jesus as Lord – laying down his life for all of us when we didn’t want him. Because we needed him.

      1. Yes, that is true. Like I said, I have so much respect for anyone that would do it. (And not all cases are these worst-scenario ones.)

        But I also don’t think it’s right to put yourself, your family, your other children at such great risk, with those kids that are on the worse-scenario spectrum. I’ve heard of cases of children being violent, grabbing knives to hurt the family, being sexually aggressive towards the other children, stealing from the foster parents, etc. Things that go way beyond a tantrum or difficulty adjusting.

        If they are allowed to be dealt with and disciplined, including a good spanking when they need it, that’s different. But this idea of allowing what are basically predators into your home to destroy your family and other children and you’re just supposed to take it and not do anything? Sorry, I don’t think that’s biblical. The other children have a right to be protected in their own home. And so do you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s