After living with us for over a year, we recently said goodbye to a sweet four-year-old girl we’d fostered and come to love truly. She was the same age as my youngest son, so they were in the same preschool class for over two school years, the same Sunday school class, and they played together (or fought) every waking moment of every day, just like twins! The hole she left in our home and hearts was enormous. My son needed to learn to play at home alone. We often forgot to stop setting her place at the dinner table. Seeing her empty bed was a difficult trigger. The grief and heartache were persistent and real for days. The worry of not knowing how she was doing post-reunification was troubling.
And yet, we’d done everything right. We’d treated this precious girl as one of our own. We’d gotten her the therapies and services she needed. We’d supported her biological parents with daily updates on their daughter and encouragement along the way. We’d communicated to social workers and the judge our desire for the family to reunify when it was safe. We’d surrendered this child and this process to the Lord. Friends offered congratulations on a job well done. We’d achieved foster care success and met the goal. Should I have felt guilty for my conflicting feelings?
Often in leadership, our hard choices and decisions, though good and right, come with grief. It might be the decision to let an employee go who isn’t a good fit for an organization. Perhaps there’s a tough truth that needs to be spoken to someone who doesn’t receive it well. Maybe you’re holding together parties in conflict and working toward reconciliation but experiencing their pain through the process. You may be establishing a boundary with someone taking advantage of you, and as they feel the strain of taking responsibility for themselves, you experience their wrath. You may be doing everything right. People on the outside might congratulate you when the results look good. But our best work doesn’t always feel good.
Jesus knows exactly what this is like. There were many times in his ministry when He had to make tough decisions that, although in line with God’s will, were misunderstood and resulted in sorrow. For example, John 11 tells us that He did not rush to the aid of Lazarus in his illness, which resulted in Lazurus’ death and Mary and Martha’s agony. When He eventually arrived, Martha came out of the house to greet Him, but Mary did not. His friends were likely confused and upset. Of course, Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead and that Lazarus’ resurrection would be an example of His power and a blessing to all, but it didn’t prevent Him from feeling the initial pain of that decision. He wept at the loss of Lazarus and at the pain His friends felt even though He would raise Lazarus just moments later. He took time and space to sit in those complex emotions. And then in the end, the Father was glorified.
We learn from Jesus that it’s okay to experience the grief of a hard decision. Just because it was the right choice doesn’t mean that you need to push away all complicated feelings or feel guilty for feeling them. Your grief doesn’t mean that you didn’t trust God in your choice or that you don’t still stand by it. You may feel conflicted between the security of having trusted the Lord with your decision and the sadness of the result. Jesus is comfortable meeting us in the mix of emotions. He just sits with us in them and promises to heal our wounds over time. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Encouraging the reunification of the child we fostered was absolutely the right decision. Yet, that relief, celebration, and victory sit alongside the sadness of missing her, the trauma of a child quickly gone without a goodbye and the hard work of restoring our family’s identity without her. I’m grateful that I don’t feel the need to push any feelings aside or feel guilty at how complicated they are; I can simply give them all to Jesus who knows that when we trust Him with our decisions, He will carry the weight of them. He promises to restore our hearts and to make us stronger so that the in the end, the Father is glorified.