I'm going to tell you something I've only told a few people in my life: I struggled to love my child.
You might judge me for this, and that's OK. I used to be afraid of what other people might think - other mothers - if those words ever left my lips. I mean, would they think I was a bad mother? A bad person? A monster, even?
Because mothers love. That's what we do. Well, that's what I tried to do.
We adopted our youngest child when she was six years old. It was work parenting a child with a difficult childhood, but I had faith in my ability to love. That was why God brought her to me - so I would love her, I thought. Because remember, that's what moms do. They love. But I struggled. In fact, I wasn't sure I did love her. All I knew was I was failing at the thing mothers are supposed to do best - love. Not only did I feel grief, but I felt a deep shame that remained hidden for a long time.
Perhaps you have someone you struggle to love. Maybe an adopted child, a biological child, a step-child or an in-law. Maybe it's your spouse, a sibling, a co-worker or your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love one another, but what to do we do when loving is hard? Beat ourselves up? Hide our shame?
After much searching and prayer, I thankfully realized we don't have to do any of those things. I learned three things about loving others that changed the grief to relief and the shame to joy.
1. My expectations shaded my reality
I realized most of my struggle came when the way I felt didn't match with the way I thought I should feel. When I released myself - my love - from the expectation I had created, I was able to see that I did indeed love her. It looked and felt different than a spontaneous love I had expected. But it was much like the love I have for my husband is different - it's chosen and developed. I understood that love is a choice; it is worked at and nurtured. But it is still love. And so it is with my adopted daughter.
2. A mother's love isn't one color or one strength
I felt a great joy and relief when I allowed myself to see that my love wasn't different for just my youngest, but it is for each of my children. I love each of my children differently. I love my son differently than my oldest daughter. I love my oldest daughter differently than my youngest daughter. My love for each of my children touches different parts of my heart. Sometimes it brings me joy, and other times it causes me pain. My love for them is different, and that's OK.
The biggest epiphany for me was when I began to understand what charity was.
Charity isn't love I develop. It is God'slove, which is given to me as a gift (1 Corinthians 14:1). I am not expected to have the capacity to love like Jesus does; I simply need to qualify myself for the gift of his love for myself and others. As I strive to seek after it, he will bless me with his charity.
And here's the amazing thing. You see, when we seek for and allow the love of God to pass through us, I believe some of it is left behind. That, I think, is how we grow in charity. And every time I pray for it and feel his love for her pass through me to her, I am left loving her more.
These three truths helped me see that not only do I love my daughter, I always have.
With his help, I can be everything each of my children needs. Everything. Even when I fall short. With healthy expectations, the desire to choose and nurture love and with the help of the Lord, my children will have more love than they could ever need.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Michelle Wilson's blog, saltandjuniper.blogspot.com. It has been republished here with permission.