Donald Miller called it “the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.” Paul, in Romans, calls it “our old self.” It’s the part of myself that I try to bring to the foot of the cross – but then scurry away with, holding on tightly, all too often.
It’s the part of myself that I didn’t really look at or acknowledge much until God brought hurt children into our family. I remember thinking when we were newly married (20 short years ago!) that I now understood how selfish I really was – and now marriage was the gift that was going to release me from my self.
Then, we had children, and our two tiny people showed me how silly I had been – now I was learning to truly lay down my self.
Then, we adopted, and I thought choosing to become mom to children with medical needs was the point where I would leave self firmly behind.
Then, we started fostering, and I thought loving children while they were waiting for permanency could knock off those last vestiges of the needy beast of a thing living in my chest.
But it is still there.
And there are times when parenting hurt children has made it louder, more insistent, and more entrenched than ever before. When I’m tired, depleted, worn down – and facing a child who is afraid to be loved, who doesn’t truly understand what a family is or how it works, who actively fights against having a mom – that needy beast sits up and whispers in my ear all of the reasons I should feel sorry for myself.
It is why I am trying to wake each morning, letting my first breath in be the name of Jesus and letting my first breath out be the words “I need you.”
Because I know that there is no earthly way that I can lay my wretched, tangled, inward self down long enough to love my kids well for even a few short moments without Him.
Paul goes on in Romans 6, after talking about the death of our old self, to say that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. We are all slaves to something. Something has mastery over us. It can be that needy beast of self, or we can beg Him for the grace to let that beast be crucified with Christ (over and over and over again).
It hurts and it’s ugly. And I am too often content to sit with that needy thing and let it whisper to me how unfair it all is. Until I am once again sad and sorry enough to drag my shriveled, pitiful, anemic soul back to the foot of His cross, His mercy, His righteousness.
And He lets me. He is gracious (I tell my kids that means He is kind to us even when we don’t deserve it) and compassionate (I tell them that means He is full of love). So He lets me.
They don’t put this in the adoption brochures, people. That loving hurt children will shine a light into the shadows of our darkest self. But God has told us plainly – we have been crucified with Christ and are being made new – in my case, time and time again.
with hope and gratitude,
* My friend, Alexandra, introduced me to this breathing in-and-out prayer in her new book, “Loving My Actual Life“