orphan care fostering

Today is Orphan Sunday, and churches all over the world are making a point to talk about the orphan crisis and where the church fits in bringing healing to the needs of these children. The focus of Orphan Sunday could be for many a starting point for the Lord to open their eyes to both the need and a specific calling he’s given them to help meet it. Because I love being a foster parent myself, it thrills me to think that God might today whisper or shout to an individual that He wants to use them to foster children who need homes. He might plant seeds; He could be watering them today, moving some into action. Those possibilities are exciting, yet I’m equally concerned for how people could be misled into fostering.

Not everyone everywhere handles James 1:27 carefully. Some ignore context and use it to say the heart of mercy James describes only looks a certain way and that if you’re not playing this one part they decide is most important in orphan care, then you aren’t being obedient. That saddens me so much, and I’ve seen it happen enough to know it’s a real danger that exists. I wish it were never true, but in some places, emotional manipulation, misinterpreted Scripture, and overwhelming guilt could be the motivation for people saying yes to becoming foster parents.

There are so many reasons to do it – IF God has it for YOU to do, and we all need to be willing to ask the question and open ourselves to the possibility that God could be calling us to it. Probably – hopefully – a number of people are having that conversation with their Savior today: “Is this what you want from me, Lord? If so, I’ll do it.” Such a surrendered heart is undoubtedly sweetness to Him.

But I also think there are reasons not to become a foster parent, and before I share those, let me be clear what I’m not saying. I’m not telling you that the things I list are indicators that God couldn’t call you to foster. Possessing any of these motivations isn’t an automatic disqualification from the calling, but they are meant to serve as heart-checks for the “why” behind stepping into this role and to help us think about poor motives and wrong expectations we might possibly have.

Not one Christ-follower who is a foster parent is chosen for the task because of how good and strong they are. Greatness isn’t a prerequisite for this calling. Like any other work in the kingdom, weakness is what we bring to the table and His grace is what covers and equips us to act obediently, so don’t mistake me for saying that fostering can’t be for you if you’re struggling in one of these areas. Lord knows I didn’t come into this with perfect, always God-honoring motives, and fostering is constantly still pointing out areas of my heart that need work! What I am saying is that if you are feeling like God may be leading you to foster, these are areas that are better to address as you begin the process – now, rather than later on. If they exist anywhere in your heart and mind, please don’t ignore them but let the Lord speak into those places and prepare you as only He can.

5 Reasons not to be a foster parent:

1.) Don’t foster if you don’t trust God to always do what is loving and good.

My foster mama friend it recently: “You just can’t foster if you don’t really trust God.” It’s so true. There are too many hard things you’ll face, too many “why?” questions that go unanswered. You’ll need to have the type of relationship with the Lord where you know how to press into him more deeply with the big unknowns and the hard questions instead of running away or burying your head. You’ve got to know how to worship a God of mystery because fostering will push you to see Him, to know Him, in ways you don’t understand. It’s not that good foster parents don’t have to battle doubts or fears; most of us have to fight for that trust in God’s sovereignty over and over again. But you’ll want to know that deep down, you’re settled in your understanding of how good God is even in the midst of what looks and is very, very bad.

2.) Don’t foster if you feel like you have to or you aren’t a good Christian.

orphan care, orphan sundayMaybe someone, somewhere, beat you over the head with a Bible verse like James 1:27 and left you thinking it meant you had to do this or you weren’t truly a grateful, committed follower of Jesus. Perhaps people you know so loudly applaud foster and adoptive parents for “truly living out the gospel,” that you’ve begun to think you must not be living out the gospel because you’re not doing the exact same things. Please don’t listen to those voices if they are around you. Since when are there not a million different callings that exemplify the gospel and make much of Jesus? Orphan care can’t be motivated by guilt. Being compelled by the gospel and being guilted by it are two different things. 

3.) Don’t foster because you’re thinking this will be an easy way to add to your family.

First of all, it’s never easy. Adding children to your family is always challenging, whether biologically or through adoption, but you can count on the world of foster care and adoption to bring its unique flavors of difficulty, as you can imagine, along with inviting spiritual warfare at times too. While family planning is often a reason to start fostering – and a valid one, in my opinion – it can’t be the only one. What you’re hoping to get in a son or daughter can’t override your desire to give to a child who needs you. You may have these deep desires to adopt a child, but you have to daily surrender to the idea that you may be temporary parents for a child and you can’t let what you want get in the way of offering what is needed. This really can’t be about you.

But there’s another sense in which it cannot be all about them either. You don’t want to think fostering is about good, whole you reaching in to save poor, sad them. Even in our very best obedience, we’re still broken people, and it’s often true that these hurting, vulnerable children we serve are who God uses to reach into our hearts with his transforming power. Know that the help you offer isn’t one-way, and watch out for developing a Savior-complex here. When you’re in the thick of fostering and have so much hard around you, it is not fun to add in God breaking down your arrogance in it too. I’ve been there. It’s better to seek humility from the start.

4.) Don’t foster if you have something to prove.

Deciding to foster can’t be about accomplishing something. Beware of any desire to respond to skepticism with an “I’ll show them I can do this” mentality. This isn’t about trying to prove wrong those who aren’t on board with your plan to foster. (And in case you’re wondering, you will encounter opposition somewhere; I’d bet you.) Fostering has its unique way of revealing and stripping you of pride, selfishness, control – it’s a difficult, ongoing process – and you don’t want identity, accomplishment, and approval-seeking to be part of that too. These precious kids deserve more than a place of bolstering a foster parent’s sense of identity and ability. Don’t use them like that.

5.) Don’t foster if you think you’ll just try it out and see how it goes.

I think we can do a better job of emphasizing the importance of placement stability for a child in foster care. Kids transition foster care homes for a variety of reasons, and so many of those moves are needful, good, right, and God-directed. Sometimes change needs to happen very quickly, and hard choices have to be made. I understand all of that. Not every call in foster care is a long one, and this is, by no means, a judgment of someone’s length of involvement or a blanket statement that we should never let a placement go. That’s not at all what I believe; plus, I don’t have the right to speak into that in someone else’s life, as I’m not privy to God’s leading of their family.

But I think we should enter into fostering committed and only go back on our commitment to a placement if absolutely necessary.

Educate yourself on the devastating effects instability in foster care or failed adoption placements have on these kids, and don’t go into it to “try them out” as a son and daughter. Be confident in your call before you welcome a child in your home. Don’t let their future and security hang in the balance of your indecisiveness and uncertainty. Again, they deserve so much more than to be used in our own family life/social work experiments.

Should you become a foster parent?

For anyone trying to discern whether or not God is calling you to be a foster parent, I hope this gives you some helpful points to consider as you pray and seek the Lord’s answer. How do you know if He does have this for you? I think a truly surrendered heart won’t miss the call, if it’s there. And if it’s not this one, we know He has a plan for using your unique gifts and passions, and we rejoice that our creative God uses us in different ways in a very diverse kingdom.