Foster Care and Spiritual Formation

by Russell L. Meek January 30, 2019

I’ve written before about my struggles with foster care. It’s revealed some dark truths about my own heart that I would have preferred not be there. It’s been over a year now that Andrew* has been with my family. His infectious laughter fills our home as he hippity-hops—never walking, always hippity-hoping—all over the place. He doesn’t cling to my wife and me quite as anxiously when we are around new people. He’s started to run around the church with other kids before Sunday services. And this week was the first time he didn’t cry when we dropped him off in the nursery. God has been good.

We hear all sorts of things from people about our boys when we’re out in public. The questions are usually like, “Are they all yours?” (They’re not all Anglo.) When folks find out we have a foster son, they typically comment about how great we are and how they could never foster children. I brush off these comments because we’re not great, foster care is hard, and I’m convinced all Christians are called to orphan care (James agrees). My wife came home from Bible Study Fellowship a few weeks ago and told me about an encouraging conversation she had with a sister in Christ. My wife's friend said, “God is going to bless you so much for what you’re doing.” I laughed out loud because it hasn’t seemed like he’s blessing us much. Life is harder with Andrew. More dinner to make, more shoes to find, more diapers to change, more yelling to endure.

My wife replied by pointing out all the good things God has done in us since Andrew came. We’ve better understood God’s love for us, his adopted kids. We’ve learned how to be more patient, kinder, gentler. We’ve grown in self-control, in dying to self, in putting others’ needs above our own. The dark parts of our hearts have been exposed by learning to care for another human being who is not biologically related to us. We’ve learned what hospitality is—welcoming a stranger into our home and putting him and his needs above us. Those are blessings, friends, and I just hadn’t realized it because my heart is still darkened by sin.

James tells us that “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 CSB). I’ve held onto that verse as an anchor in our foster-care journey. The verses I neglected come a bit earlier in James: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” I wasn’t considering foster care “a great joy” because my main concern has been my own comfort, not my conformity to Christ. Like I said before, I’m convinced that God calls all Christians to orphan care; I just didn’t realize it was such a powerful agent of spiritual formation.

*Name changed to protect privacy.