Labor of Love

The house is quiet. Three boys rest upstairs. The soothing mechanical whirring of the dishwasher is nearly the only sound to be heard. It was not this way an hour or two ago. When the house was all-fire charged with the energy of a whole mess of neighborhood kids. This one drawing, that one playing piano, that one trying to play the piano at the same time, these two playing a new game from Christmas, this one taking pictures of everyone else, those two flooding their cups with ice enough for six cups. Laughter. A sea of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Except for these two– jelly makes them throw up– peanut butter only. And the bread. Gasp. It is wheat bread. One of the older ones looks at me and shakes his head. “I don’t eat that kind of bread.” I smile back, “Well today I guess you do… unless you wanna be hungry. That’d be a bummer.” He shrugs and nods, acknowledging the wisdom.

He eats not one, but two sandwiches.

And I breathe out the desire for a jog and time on the couch with my book and I breathe in again the words of Jesus… who did not come to be served but to serve… And I feel the reality of a life that is unpredictable. Earlier in the week it was 10 kids…. when I thought it would be 4. Before that it was 4 hours… when I thought it would be 2… And my flesh still sometimes cringes that this life is so profoundly devoid of respect for my personal space. “Miss Sarah, can I have your money?” No, sweetheart. “Miss Sarah, can I spend the night? Tomorrow night? The next night?” “Mr. Paul, can I live here?” “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

And every day.

It is so the opposite of what feels manageable and measurable. But I walk five children home on this staggeringly beautiful afternoon, this afternoon that begs to be lived well. I walk with them, and two start to harass the three, and the three begin to work themselves into a retaliation frenzy. And I talk with them. We talk about loving people when it’s easy and loving people when it’s hard. We talk about the good choices we all make and the bad choices we all make. We talk about the deep stain that puts us all in the same horrible spot. And we talk about what Jesus did for us… how His life and death rescues us from sin and how His wisdom teaches us how to treat others.

And they listen.

At least some of them do. Some don’t. But I have to make peace with this, because it has always been this way. Even when Jesus taught it himself.

And I think to myself on my walk home that I love those kids. That I love my kids. And that sowing seeds of love and truth in their lives is worth the cost and labor. In fact is there even such a thing as love without sacrifice? If it costs me nothing, can I even call it love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. – 1 John 3:16

And in the end, if what I have isn’t love, then it wouldn’t matter if I were eloquent or brilliant or faithful or philanthropic or courageous… Paul says I have nothing if I don’t have love.

And I sit and marvel again at the birth remembered days ago… at the cost paid, the labor freely taken on to deliver a people, driven by love that did not cringe away from sacrifice or consider “personal space” something to be held onto. And the words ring so beautifully true, How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure…