All commands given by God have this in common: they are easy to say, but hard to live.
In this post, I want to focus on one of these commands: to care for orphans in their distress (James 1:27).
The cause of the orphan is of late getting the attention that it deserves within the Christian community. An orphan is any child who is unloved, unwanted, or unprotected. Perhaps she is in an orphanage; perhaps they are the siblings who are watching their parents cook meth. He may be the child who has been bounced around from one foster home to another. She may be the hardened girl who has been coerced into prostitution.
There are numerous ways to obey the command to care for orphans. Some adopt children. Others foster children temporarily. Some just identify vulnerable kids in their neighborhood and give them a safe place to go after school. But no matter how you obey, like all commands, there is a personal cost.
Right now, I have several friends who are raising their nieces and nephews. These children have faced neglect and abuse. My friends have taken them in, transforming a family of five to a family of seven overnight. Or a family of four to a family of eight. The work of these aunts and uncles cannot be understated. In some of these cases we don’t know the extent of the trauma suffered by these children, in some we do. They may literally have saved the children’s lives. They may have simply given their new kids a shot at having a real childhood. The redemptive aspects of these situations are wondrous. These children are experiencing unconditional love for the first time. They have a safe place to lay their head. They have a father who protects them. They have a mother who speaks tenderly to them. What an inspiring story. The end.
Except that’s not the whole picture. The weight of these newly expanded parental duties is great. The parents now find that they need not just parenting skills but counseling abilities too. They have to figure out how to parent teenagers when they previously have only parented toddlers. They have to gather baby gear when they’ve been several years removed from raising infants. They are trying to make up for years of unmet needs. There are so many demands, so few hours in the day, and so few parents to go around. The mothers especially can feel like they are cheating their own children because the new additions demand so much attention. Now, desperate for face time with their spouse, it is more elusive than ever. Exhaustion and isolation are ever crouching at the door. And while they know that this calling is noble, right, and gospel-driven, when one of their biological children remarks “I wish it was just our family again” sometimes their heart may whisper, “me too, honey.” But they wake up the next day and selflessly pour themselves out all over again.
The idea of seeking out an orphan is a powerful image. It’s powerful because it is the earthly picture that most closely resembles our spiritual reality. God “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” That was not an easy process. For Christ, it meant stepping down from his throne, putting on human flesh, being born in poverty, living a life of service to others, and dying so that others might live. For the Father, it meant giving His one and only Son into the hands of those who would mistreat Him and being separated from His Son for the first and only time in history.
The result of that sacrifice is that God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” As I watch my friends struggle with weariness and heartache, I can also see that their nieces and nephews are being changed. They are laughing, healing, and growing in self confidence. Their road may still be hard, but it is no longer dark.
Here is the take-away, Christian friends. Because caring for orphans is a demanding, long-term calling, it is ALWAYS God’s will to sacrifice for those who are obeying this call. You never have to ask God if He wants you attend that adoption fund-raiser (He does). He wants you to give up some leisure time to cook a giant meal for your friends who have taken on the responsibilities of a negligent parent. Yes, you should offer to babysit so that those parents can have a date night. Yes, you should get involved in the life of that lonely child down the street. Even if you never adopt or foster a child, find a family in your world who is doing it and give sacrificially to them. You will bless their heart, and God’s too.