We didn’t realize it at the time, but when my husband and I began to consider foster parenting, we may have had an slight “savior complex” going on. Ahem.
We knew there would be sacrifices involved. But we counted them worthwhile as we anticipated swooping into places where children were being severely abused and callously neglected, scooping them up into our arms and whisking them away to a safe and happy place, our superhero capes fluttering behind us in the breeze as we dashed back to the security and comfort of our home.
The children. It was about helping children. We wanted abused kids to be safe. We wanted hungry kids to be fed. We wanted dirty kids to be clean. We wanted hurt kids to be healed. We wanted sad kids to be happy. We wanted lonely kids to feel belonging.
And we still want those things.
But not quite in the same way we used to.
You see, we’ve now observed firsthand that it’s not just the children who need to be helped. It’s the whole family.
Yes, there are some mean and evil parents who severely abuse or callously neglect their children, either intentionally or with complete disregard for their welfare; but I now realize those parents aren’t the majority.
Most parents of children in the foster care system do love their kids. And many of them take care of their kids the best way they know how.
The problem is, their best really isn’t good enough.
But here’s the thing…it’s hard to do better when you don’t know better.
I grew up being well-fed, well-clothed, well-taught, and well-cared-for. I don’t think I can fully comprehend the depth of gift this was…because it’s so ingrained in me, I take it completely for granted. And I bet you just might, too.
I was never left at home alone as a child, so I know kids aren’t supposed to be left alone.
I was fed consistently as a child, so I know kids are supposed to eat consistently.
I was sent to school as a child, so I know kids are supposed to go to school.
I was always clothed in clean, neat, and well-fitting garments, so I know kids are supposed to be dressed this way.
I was given regular baths as a child, so I know kids are supposed to be cleaned regularly.
I was taken to the doctor for regular checkups, so I know kids are supposed to visit their doctor.
But what if I wasn’t raised this way?
And what if no one I knew was raised this way?
It would be a lot harder for me to know how things are supposed to be, wouldn’t it?
And even if I did somehow find out, it would be much harder for me to implement, wouldn’t it?
These thoughts barely scratch the surface of the obstacles faced by many, many parents. What about parents who suffered various forms of abuse as children, or those who grew up with parents enslaved by various addictions, or those who were abandoned by their own parents, or those who gave birth to babies when they were still pretty much kids themselves?
This makes the foster care problem a lot bigger, doesn’t it? Perhaps it makes you feel even more helpless than you might already feel about such an overwhelmingly huge issue.
Thankfully, the Departments of Social Services in many locales recognize the obstacles parents face, and have programs in place to help them. From counseling to job training, parenting classes to anger management courses, parents who want to do better have an opportunity to know better.
But what if knowing better and even doing better still aren’t enough? Because when we consider this issue from an eternal perspective (which Christ-followers should), knowing better and doing better might solve short-term problems…but they don’t offer eternal value.
Jesus sacrificed His life so people could rise above knowing and doing…to being.
And so foster families and social services are a help…but they’re not the ultimate source of help. Because social services at their best still can’t accomplish what God can.
The One who can make crooked paths straight can straighten crumpled lives.
The One who can bring forth streams in a desert can bring forth lushness in a barren heart.
He can transform sinners into new creations. He can take the darkest, filthiest blackness and wash it whiter than snow.
He redeems from the bondage of sin and sets free those captive to addictions.
He heals wounds and restores souls.
He is Father to the fatherless and He is the Spirit indwelling His children.
The truth is, I can never give children the help they need. And I can’t give their families the help they need.
But I can point them to the One who can help. The One who wants to meet their every need…the One who is just waiting for them to come to Him.
Which is why, by God’s grace, my husband and I have traded in our imaginary superhero status for a new vision from God.
The best possible reward for a Christ-following foster family is to see families reunited and serving our God.
You and I know the answer to life’s problems. We have the solution.
What if more Christ-followers came alongside families who don’t know the answer and don’t have the solution, and pointed them toward Him?
Lord, make Isaiah 26:8 our plea! “Your name and Your renown are the desire of our hearts.” Because when families find You, they have a fighting chance at overcoming the obstacles they face.