Some of the unsung heroes in the Christian community are foster parents. One of the most beautiful pictures of the gospel you’ll see are parents laying themselves on the line for the sake of a helpless child.
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- Rick’s 31-Day Parenting Devotional
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It’s a clear reminder of Paul’s gratitude to God in Romans 5:8–He loved us while we were sinners. Foster parents powerfully emulate the Savior by loving children who have lost their way. They have lost their way because of being born in Adam and their lives were further complicated by their biological parents.
It has been a privilege to come alongside a few foster parents who have asked for some guidance in their journey. I have found it personally enriching to serve these heroes of the faith. Here are a few infographics and notes I hope will serve many other parents and foster parents as they care for the little ones.
From Chaos To Order
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. – Hebrews 11:3
In the beginning of time the universe was a chaotic mess. It needed someone to come along and speak into the chaos. This is the meaning of the word created in Hebrews 11:3. It’s the same Greek word we see in Galatians 6:1 (restore) and Mark 1:19 (mending), which means bringing order out of chaos.
In the Genesis account we see the Lord speaking into the chaos of a disordered universe by the power of His word. He brought order out of chaos. This is analogous to what a foster parent (or any parent) is called to do for a child.
The sole reason a foster parent receives a child is because the child is in some kind of chaos. He has been chaotically affected by his environment, which has been deemed unacceptable.
The child is removed from their home and placed in a foster home. The foster parents have the amazing and challenging privilege of providing something that is completely counter to the child’s experience. This the gospel.
God spoke His Word into our lives and the reorientation of our souls began. We are being restored by God (Galatians 6:1). These children have been caught by sin, that is not of their own making, and now they can be restored too.
They are in traps that have affected how they think about and live in their world. The foster parent comes along and provides a context of grace and peace, which is modeled after the Word of God.
It’s like a child coming to the US from a third-world country. He has no categories or interpretive grid for life in the US. The hope is for him to go from chaos and dysfunction to order and unity. This is the job of all parents, as they cooperate with the Lord and His Word, to help a child attain this rich goal.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9
The most effective teaching tool for the foster parent is their personal day-to-day examples they provide for the child. A picture is worth a thousand words and the various portraits the parents emulate of Christ will have the greatest impact on the child.
I think sometimes we forget how our personal example can be our greatest liability or our greatest asset. The foster child needs teaching, but he’ll be affected more by your Christlike example.
By all means teach him about God, Christianity, and salvation. Don’t hold back from filling his mind with God’s Word, but also do not forget how your personal example will have more power and effect on your child.
He comes from a world of personal examples that are mostly poor. To see a counter-biblical-example of how to live in a cruel world will be more enduring than your teaching.
Your example will either enhance or trump your teaching. If you’re modeling your teaching, you’re on the right track. If your example is contrary to your teaching, your teaching will be marginalized or even be viewed as hypocritical.
Your goal is for him to follow you as you follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). This will also be your greatest test. On Tuesday afternoon after he spits in your face or defiantly throws an object across the room, your example in that moment will communicate more than your godly teaching that night.
Paul was so bold to say everything his readers learned, received, heard, and seen in him, they were to do. And if they followed his Christlike example, the God of peace would be with them.
Your greatest test and most challenging privilege will be to leave a godly example for him to follow. What will he learn, receive, hear, and see in you? If it’s a godly example, there is a good chance he can go from chaos to order.
Remember Your Limitations
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Foster care reminds me of counseling in the sense that it’s not the best context for change to take place. It can work. Change can happen. It’s just not the best place for a person to change and to stay changed.
The reason for this is because there is a definite start and stop date. In a counseling session, a person or couple shows up seeking help. I will not counsel them forever. We have a short season where care can be provided and they will go back to their world.
This is also how it goes for most foster children. They show up at their new parent’s home and they only stay for a season. There is a start date and a stop date. Then the child is shuttled off to the next environment.
This is the state’s way to help a child. It is not God’s way. God’s way to help children is for them to be in a stable home environment their entire childhood, while being engaged by their family and their local church. With a longterm stable family situation and the community of faith, the child has a greater chance of being encouraged toward Christlikeness.
It is an easy temptation for foster parents to place too much pressure on themselves, as though the life of this child will be determined by the season in which he is in their home. Counselors can be tempted similarly.
This is where the parents need to back up and take in the whole picture. The whole picture gives more consideration to our Sovereign Lord. Our omnipotent and omniscient God is not out of touch with what’s going on in the foster child’s life.
Ultimately He is the one in control of what’s going on with the child. The gift of repentance is never dispensed by humans, but is always given by the Lord. Your job is to cooperate with God by making His teaching clear through your words and actions.
You cannot make a person change, even on your best day. Change is God’s business (Ephesians 2:8-9). Remember your limitations. If you don’t, you will be tempted to become angry, impatient, or anxious (1 Corinthians 3:7).
You’re a “Waiter Outer”
But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! – Luke 15:17
Sometimes a person will ask me what I do for a living. If I’m feeling a bit punchy or silly, I may say, “I’m a waiter outer.” The truth is, that is the truth. I know I can’t change anyone, but I can wait them out until God affects their hearts.
It reminds me of the story of the prodigal son, which is not a lot different from a foster child. Though the prodigal’s parents may have been better parents, his life choices were similar to many foster kids–he chose rebellion.
The foster child is different in that he has been victimized. Still yet, he does have a God-given morality to where he can choose between right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15). While I would never condone abusing children and strongly believe they should be removed from abusive situations, I also know a child can choose biblical morality.
I realize it’s not as simple as it sounds. I’m only making one point here, not several–at some point in time the child can choose a right path. More than likely he will not choose a right path while he is in your home, especially if the time in your home is a short season.
Illustration–I was in jail when I was 15-years old. There were several complicating reasons as to why I was in jail, e.g., poor parenting, my sinful choices. The Lord regenerated me when I was 25-years old. (You can read a fuller bio here.)
Looking back now, I can confidently say it would not have mattered what anyone would have said to me, it was still going to be another 10 years before I was effectively changed. If you had met me at 15, 16, 17, or 18-years of age and tried to change me, you would have been frustrated. I effectually change at 25-years old.
God will not tell you when or if your foster child will change. He would not have told you when I was going to change. All He is calling you to do is to love your child while you have him. Be Christ to him today and leave his repentance to the Lord.
Like the prodigal, you do not know what verse he is in. The prodigal did not repent until he landed in verse seventeen, when the lightbulb was finally lit. Perhaps you receive a foster child and his journey of rebellion has just begun.
Your goal must be less about changing him and more about loving him. You cannot do the former, but you can do the latter. And, like the prodigal, if he does change, there is a good chance he will come back to you to tell you about how your love affected him.
Guard Your Heart
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. – Galatians 6:1
It is easy as a parent to take your eye off the ball and start sinning out your brains. I suppose children can wear you down quicker than anything else. They are high demand and self-focused.
Imagine what it would be like to inherit a foster child who has no Christian moorings. Paul’s appeal to us in Galatians perfectly applies to foster parents–if they don’t guard their hearts, they will be tempted to sin.
The context for Paul’s appeal is the restorative work of a person who is caught in sin. He wants to remind us how restoration work is a quick and easy place to forget the main thing, while succumbing to the temptation to sin against those you’re trying to restore.
There are certain cues that rise up in my soul, which is the Spirit’s way of alerting me how I’m about to lose focus and succumb to the temptation to sin. Below are a list of my cues. When I feel these things, I know it can be only seconds before something unsavory rolls off my tongue.
E.g., frustration, worry, anger, impatience, need, demand, anxiety, criticalness, expectation, disappointment, hopelessness, cynicism, and losing faith for the process.
When I feel these things, like heat rising, the most important thing I can do in those moments is get away from the situation and fling myself on the Lord. It is a mercy the Spirit lets me feel these things before I blow a fuse.
When I do feel these things, I know I’m about to cross the line. I’m losing focus on who the Messiah is and who He is not. He is Jesus and I’m not Him. When I begin to act like I’m the Messiah, I will press for immediate change in my children.
When I’m not acting like the Messiah, I’m more relaxed and patient with my children. When I’m the messiah, my good desires for a person morph into demands, expectations, and eventual disappointment.
In such cases I have to repent. I must bring my good desire down to a normal size and stop pressing a person to change within my timetable. My Lord does not yell at me or become frustrated with me when I do not change and I should not be so mean when my children don’t change.
The way He motivates me to change is by His kindness, not his harshness or disfavor. He loves me into submission through His abundant riches, which He lavishes on me.
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:4
Thank You Foster Parents
To all the foster parents and adoptive parents, I praise God for you. You’re heroes of the faith, clearly modeling the love of the gospel as you participate with the Father in the divine rescue of children. I pray you feel and experience God’s favor and power as you continue to cooperate with Him in communicating the Savior to these hurting victims of abuse.
Also published on Medium.