Updated: Dec 1, 2020
We were driving in the car today, on the way to see some family. My husband makes all of the playlists for our family (he often knows what we like better than we know ourselves). Today, a song came on by Rapsody called Nina and I only halfheartedly paid attention until I heard the words:
"Do you see my pain?"
I murmured to TJ that I liked that line. In five words, Rapsody communicated how it feels to be dismissed on top of feeling pain and grief.
It's one thing to experience pain. It's another to feel like no one sees you in your pain, like your hurt is invisible to the world, like you are invisible to the world.
There are 123,000+ children in the United States who are waiting to be adopted. This means that their parents have relinquished rights or their rights have been terminated, and they are legally eligible for adoption. Most of these children are older children, children with special needs, or sibling groups.
On the other hand, there are about two million couples or singles waiting to adopt in the United States, meaning there are thirty-six couples or singles for every one child that is placed for adoption. And yet, there are 123,000 children who would be ecstatic to join those families, who are waiting - year after year - for someone to see their pain, for someone to see them.
When it comes to adoption, we can all recognize that it's not supposed to be this way. We can recognize our transracial/interracial/non-biological families as beautiful, but also that the beauty came from brokenness, from a family torn apart by abuse, neglect, addiction, trauma, poverty, homelessness, and mental illness.
As humans, our natural inclination when we come across these types of situations is, "Who is responsible for their separation?"
When our kids first came to us, people would come up to me and ask, "Where were they before they were with you?" or "What brought them to you?" or worse yet, "What is their story?"
My husband said to me last week on a Starbucks date, "I just feel like the church (as a whole) is focusing on the wrong things." These questions about who's to blame, about who's responsible, are focusing on the wrong thing. They are the wrong questions. They are searching for the culprit, the wrongdoer, so they could point a finger, place the blame, and walk away. They want to be able to point to a person and say, "This is who is responsible; therefore, I am not responsible."
It's easy to look at the people who caused the problem and say, "Yes, they caused the problem."
It's not as easy to reach those same people with the Good News of Jesus by saying, "Yes, you caused the problem. But I will help you be part of the solution."
This doesn't mean that the parents of those 123,000 children get a free pass. Of course, their actions have consequences. Of course, the relinquishment of parental rights is not something that we should praise or glorify. We can look at the substance abuse, the drugs, the imprisonment, the abuse, the neglect, and we can acknowledge that these things are not right. This is sin, and we shouldn't make light of it. (And we probably need to have an entire separate conversation about the systemic factors influencing these decisions, but not right now.)
BUT, we can't focus only on the actual (and perceived) sin. Jesus called out sin, but then he forgave and gave grace (think the adulterous woman). He drew attention to the issue, and then he made a call to action (think turned tables). He noticed the impairment, and then he healed (think the blind man, the lame man, the bleeding woman, the girl who died, etc.)
American Church, we are responsible for the are 123,000 children in need of forever homes, regardless of how they got there. They cannot return to their parents, whether it's because of unsafe environments, substance abuse, or poverty. Therefore, these 123,000 children are modern-day orphans. And because they are orphans, the Church has been told explicitly to care for them. We are responsible for their lives, for their well-being, for their discipleship. And we have failed them.
We have not seen their pain.
We are neglecting our God-mandated responsibility (see Isaiah 58, Matthew 25, James 1, and Jesus' entire life for reference).
Church, we are neglecting our children.
Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of all nations," but he didn't tell us how. I'm suppose he was in a bit of a hurry to get back to His Father at that point and didn't want to give us a 5-point strategy on reaching the lost. But also, he probably just didn't feel the need to repeat Himself. He gave us a whole lot of strategy in the Old Testament, and it's all written down for us to follow. God hasn't changed, and His methods for reaching the lost hasn't changed either. His message has simply expanded to reach more people through the sacrifice of Jesus.
His methods remain: preach the truth, call people to repentance, and care for the oppressed, poor, needy, widow, and orphan.
But so often, our churches (and therefore our Christians) have become deceived by the lie that we just need to preach the Gospel on Sundays at church, that our service is limited to the children's nursery, and that our events should mostly serve our church members or other church-y type people in our communities. And therefore, we are neglecting some very important, very effective ways of reaching the lost.
In Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope, Jasmine Holmes says it like this: "Just preach Christ and him crucified. Don't talk about how my worldview should change as my mind is renewed. Stick to the Gospel. This is how a nation that embraced the Great Awakening could embrace slavery at the exact same time: give me that spiritual experience that absolutely wrecks me while I stand in the pew but doesn't really touch my idol of comfort when I leave the church."
"Give me that spiritual experience that absolutely wrecks me while I stand in the pew but doesn't really touch my idol of comfort when I leave the church." - Jasmine Holmes
What if the church trained the "do hard things" muscle? Would the Gospel go forth? What if we started reaching the single parents, struggling families, and those wrestling with addiction and hardship? What if we made sure every single one of those 123,000 children had a safe, warm, loving home to heal? What if we provided significant support to foster and adoptive families so that people felt strong and capable to do the hard work of caring for vulnerable children?
What if we became the beacon of light?
What if we saw their pain?
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.”
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”).
Isaiah 58:4-8 (but basically the whole chapter)
What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Matthew 25:40 (but go read verses 31-46 too)
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’