My brother-in-law and I live in the same town. Attend the same church. Eat at the same restaurants. Play on the same softball team, hang out at the same family functions and are both relatively quiet guys. But aside from those things, we couldn't be more different.
My career has mostly involved standing on stages speaking to audiences or sitting behind computer screens writing at coffee shops. His, on the other hand, has in large part been spent in helicopters, flying top-secret missions into parts of the world most of us have never heard of to train or protect us from dangers most of us were never even aware of. While I went to seminary to study theology, he went to Ranger school to become one of the most highly-trained soldiers the United States Army has ever produced. I respect him immensely, not just because he could break my arm with his pinky finger, but because he's done something I probably never could, and because of men and women like him, I likely will never have to.
That's the beautiful thing about diversity - we can do two entirely different things but they can work together for a common good. My respect for him is, in part, rooted in my gratefulness for doing what he's done so that I don't have to - but it goes both ways. I know him well enough to know that he has no interest in standing on stage and preaching to an audience. He's perfectly content letting someone like me do it so that someone like him doesn't have to. I can celebrate the benefits his work has had on my behalf and he can appreciate the benefits my work has on his. Our work, though vastly different, is mutually beneficial to each other.
THE BODY OF CHRIST IN ORPHAN CARE
The imagery of a human body is consistently used throughout Scripture to illustrate the identity and activity of the Church – how the people of God relate to one another and function together. Some are hands and some are feet, some are fingers and some are toes, some eyes and some ears (1 Corinthians 12:14-20). In this diverse, interconnected system of parts, unique functions are given to unique individuals, not for their own good but for the good of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). These roles are established not on the basis of rank, as if one person's position was more important than another, but on the premise that when each member fulfills their individual responsibility the whole body will function better together for it. In other words, we do what we do so that others don't have to, and others do what they do so we don't have to. Unique roles all serving the same purpose with equal importance That's how our physical bodies work, and that too is how the Church most effectively operates. The point of scripture using this imagery? To communicate that we're certainly not all called to do the same thing, but we are all definitely created to doing something.
If we're not careful, we may unintentionally define "orphan care" too narrowly - to simply mean adoption, foster care or some other long term form of bringing a child into our homes. While these are of course crucial and essential places for the Church to engage, they represent only a fraction of the limitless opportunities available we have to care for vulnerable children and support the families who do. The opportunities to get involved are as unique as each individual member of the body. Some will be lead to adopt, while others will be lead to pay for it. Different functions but of equal importance. Ask the family adopting if they feel more important than the families helping them financially pay for it. I guarantee they'll consider those supporters to be immensely important in the life of that child, even if they're not necessarily the ones bringing them into their home. Or ask the foster family who just took in another placement how important the families at their church are who bring them meals and offer to babysit. No doubt they'll see that support network as crucial in their ability to bring that child into their home. Unique functions, same purposes, all of equal importance. These, and a variety of others ways, are how the Body of Christ can work together in orphan care.
IDENTIFYING YOUR SOMETHING
Part of venturing down the orphan care path is discovering the unique, specific role God is asking you to step into - and in so doing, identifying with clarity and confidence where He's not leading you. We're not all called to do the same thing, but we are all capable of doing something, and it's essential you identify your something. But how do you do that? Let me suggest a few things:
- Pray. Ask God to open your heart to His, and to protect you from the tendency to begin rationalizing and justifying so that you can just start obeying. The goal isn't so much to find warm fuzzy feelings of comfort and peace - sometimes asking God for clarity results in Him leading us into some very precarious places that are hard and full of uncertainties. Be willing to hear that, and most importantly, accept that from Him. Let that be the posture of your prayers.
- Share with your community. If our unique role within the Body of Christ is given for the good of the whole, then who better to ask how we benefit the body most than the other members of the body? Community is a crucial filter for us in determining where and how God is leading. If I were to go to my friends and tell them I felt the Lord leading me away from orphan care ministry and into interpretive dancing ministry, I hope they would be good enough friends to tell me that I was way wrong - that I had missed God big time somewhere. Why? Because me doing interpretive dancing doesn't benefit the body of Christ at all! It actually hurts it, really really hurts it. Share what you're feeling with your community. Let them speak into it, encourage it and maybe even refine it some.
- Do some research. Educate yourself on the various ways there are to come alongside vulnerable kids and support the families who are. Read blogs, articles, books. Attend conferences and local agency orientation classes. Talk to families in your church that are already doing something and learn from their experiences. You'll naturally begin to find that some opportunities are clearly not for you while others stir up a passion in you that you might not even have known had existed before. The point of your research isn't just awareness; it's obedience. Don't be paralyzed by all the options. Just start somewhere, it may not be where you eventually end, but at least you've started. That's what's important.
BATTLING THE ENEMIES OF COMPARISON AND GUILT
We've all heard amazing stories of people who have fostered 50+ kids, adopted 12 of them, single-handedly funded an orphanage in Uganda and run an after school program for inner city kids out of their house. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but there are certainly those stories out there that make many of us step back and think, "Wow, are you kidding me?!" It's in times like those when it's incredibly easy to compare what you are doing to what others have done and feel insignificant, to feel inadequate and to feel like what you're doing is not enough. Let's be clear, "enough" is not determined by measuring yourself up to someone else; it's defined by whether or not you are being obedient to what God has asked you to do. We all can't do the same thing, but we can all find our something to do and do it. God will lead some people to do certain things that we can't do and likely will never have to because of people like them. And that's ok. That's how the body of Christ works. Charles Swindoll once said, “When the Lord makes it clear you're to follow Him in this new direction, focus fully on Him and refuse to be distracted by comparisons with others.” He's right. Stop looking at what others are doing and just start doing what you're supposed to do.
Comparison to others breeds guilt in ourselves, and guilt is a horrible motivator. Stop feeling guilty about what you can't do in orphan care and start pressing into what you can do. What you can do might not be the same as what others around you are doing, but that's ok, because that's how the body of Christ works. In order to say yes to what you're supposed to do you're going to have to learn how to say no to other things without feeling guilty about it. Know your limits. Know your healthy boundaries. The last thing kids in crisis need is someone who is supposed to be taking care of them putting themselves in an unstable position. That's exactly how they ended up where they are in the first place. Fight hard against the tendency to feel like you're not doing anything because you're not doing everything. Let's be clear, you don't need to change the world for every child, but if what you're doing is changing the world of at least one, then it's most definitely significant and undoubtedly beautiful. Don't belittle it with a guilty conscience.
We're not all called to do the same thing, but we're all certainly capable of doing something. Whatever your role, whatever your part, do it knowing that in the Body of Christ there are no more or less important parts, just unique roles all contributing to a whole much larger than any one individual member. The beauty of the diversity of the Body of Christ in orphan care is that no one has to do everything, but everyone can do something.
Find. Your. Something.
- Foster Care is Spiritual Warfare
- To Foster and Adoptive Parents: Reframing Your Season of Struggle
- Busyness, Obedience and the Perfect Time to Foster or Adopt
- The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Marriage in Foster Care
- Defining Success and Failure in Foster Care
- Foster Care: Loving a Child That Might Leave
- Foster Care and What I Fear Most For My Own Kids
- Raising the Next Generation of Foster and Adoptive Parents
- Ten Simple Ways Your Church Can Serve Foster Families
- (Re)Humanizing Foster Care
- Foster Care: Why the Church Can Stop Outsourcing Child Welfare
- Rethinking Some Common Foster Care Concerns
- The Sovereignty of God in Foster Care
- Six Things Foster Care Has Taught Me
- The Other Side of Foster Care
- The Beauty and Brokenness of Foster Care
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