right heart for the orphan

“Don’t foster-adopt to get your designer child.”

I heard leading adoption/attachment expert Karyn Purvis offered this warning to prospective adoptive families to challenge the different motivations we might have in pursuing adoption. I think what she was getting at is this : Do you think this is more about you than the child in danger? Are you more interested in accomplishing your dreams for a picture-perfect family than entering into the suffering of an orphan?

I reflect on our beginning and wonder: What did motivate me back then? I know I wanted to join this movement in the church to care for orphans, and I sensed a personal call to adopt. We also strongly desired to add to our family’s number and preferred adoption to giving birth again. There were lots of reasons, lots of desires. Probably my motivations were more of a mixed bag than any singular reason. And where there was selfishness, the grace of God was greater to still lead me on this amazing journey. I can’t believe the mercy of God to allow us the joy of being part of something so special and permanently adding our son Lincoln to our family. His plan was bigger than my heart for fostering, and my initial desires were not where he left me. 

As I witness the orphan care movement within the church today, I feel an excitement at times tempered by a fear that we’re moving in that direction for the wrong reasons. I wonder if we get swept up in a drive more man-centered than God-inspired? Legalism’s grip squeezes tightly for many of us that we often don’t even see the inmost layers of our heart’s motives. We need the grace of God to unearth and then cover them. Fostering will inevitably bring that need to the surface, forcing the hard questions about where our heart’s motivations lie.

So how do we cultivate the right heart for the orphan?

When we disconnect the orphan movement from the gospel, we risk the worst kind of arrogance – thinking that we are the savior to the world’s suffering. Nothing is further from the truth. The call to serve the suffering involves somehow sharing in the suffering too. Walking the foster-parenting journey means cultivating a solidarity with these suffering ones.

heart for the orphan

The opportunities to learn mercy abound in the foster care world, and they don’t only come from the children you care for but also from their struggling parents, the tired caseworkers, the judges who make decisions you don’t understand, the people watching who frustrate you with their comments- really anyone bring this lesson to you. I believe you can count on God addressing this area of your life if you decide to foster. It’s one big, ongoing lesson in identifying ourselves with the neediness of others. We all have the same need for Him, and He has the same desire for all of us to know Him more and live out the gospel story he’s written on our lives.

I’ve become convinced of this: I’ll never have the right heart for the orphan until I have the heart OF an orphan. I suppose the more accurate thing to say is that because my faith is in Christ, I’m an ex-orphan. But whether we’re talking about our original, sin-separates-us-from-God need or our ongoing need to be freed from the “self-sanctifying” action we go after, I desperately need the same grace of God that they do.

Any struggle we may have with legalism in orphan care participation isn’t a reason in itself to run from it. I’m suggesting we embrace it and take it with us as we run to Jesus. Own this struggle, if you have it, and draw near to Him. He has the power to change us, but we need to be honest about our motives. Remembering His grace, we do battle with that part of our hearts and we offer this to the One who made the perfect sacrifice for us. The One able to transform us as we follow Him to these difficult places.

So it’s come down to this for me: There’s no end to how legalism sneaks its way into my life, and I will have to battle it always. I don’t want to be guilted into loving the orphan. I don’t want to be beaten into submission by misuses of James 1:27. I don’t want to move forward just because I’m drawn to the excitement of fostering, adoption, CASA, etc. filling some hole in my heart. I don’t want to be caught up in the trendiness of anything or feel like I need to separate myself from others by doing the unusual, unpopular thing.I don’t want this to be about me being more of my own savior than Jesus is and wants to be. But here’s the honest truth: all of those things are real temptations and can make their way into my heart at any time. It’s the ugly truth. We want the right motivation; we want to truly care about orphans and to be led by an authentic love for them.

But this won’t be a one-time evaluation before you decide to become a foster parent or do whatever it is God’s calling you to do on behalf of orphans. This will be a continuous process of examining your heart and clinging to the gospel for everyday hope.

We act out of love for the orphan because we know we’ve been one. Because the love of the FATHER still meets our every need. The gospel shows us that, and all throughout, fostering will drive you back to your need for it. I encourage you to understand that and press into it. Don’t be paralyzed by your conflicting motives, but take them to Him. Lean harder into Jesus. If you decide to foster, offer yourself to serve the precious kids in the foster care system because God’s grace means everything to you. Do it because Jesus’ love means that much to you and you can’t imagine not sharing it with the world.

foster parenting

Join me next Monday for the second part of our series where we’ll discuss how fostering is so much about learning surrender. It’s more fun than it sounds. (Maybe.)


If you missed the intro to this series, you can catch up here.