Foster Care: Finding the “I Can”
One thing I’ve heard from multiple people, that makes me hesitate every time, is this: “I could never do what you’re doing. It would be too hard to lose the baby.”
Sometimes I hear a similar sentiment phrased as a compliment, “You are amazing. Foster families are so special. They do what normal people could not do.”
I would like to challenge these statements. (Though if you remember saying something like this to me, I love you and understand!)
What drew us to foster care was the opportunity to care for needy children (I’m being careful not to say orphans, because not all needy children are orphans). We had had a heart for needy children for a long time, and most doors of caring for them—such as adopting internationally, or becoming a Katie Davis in Africa, or taking a long missions trip somewhere—were currently closed to us. One door that was open to us, as a family with young children, was opening our home to needy children in our own town.
Call me naïve, stupid, whatever, but I never considered the hard part of losing them. I was just excited about the local opportunity. In our training class, they never mentioned the grief and loss inherent in foster care (something I’ve talked about with them since!).
So the first time someone told me, looking at the baby I had not yet bonded with, “I could never do this because it would be too hard to lose them,” my internal response was like, Right. That. I hope that doesn’t hurt too much. Too late now!
Over the past several months as I’ve walked through the grief of gradually losing a child I love, I’ve heard the comment many times. And I keep thinking, Do I have some special baby-losing ability that is supposed to make this easier? Or some high emotional pain tolerance that enables me to go through what other people couldn’t? I don’t think so!
I am a completely normal person. Specifically, I am a very sensitive person who values relationships with people and bonds deeply with those I love. So many times these past several months I have thought, I can’t do this! I just can’t! But that denial doesn’t magically make the situation go away. The only way out is through, doing what I thought I couldn’t do.
I also have told other people (or thought), I could never do what you’re doing. For instance, I’ve thought that about military wives whose husbands are deployed for a long time. I imagine what their circumstances would feel like—being a single parent all day and through bedtime, going to bed alone every night, being the only adult in the home, trying not to worry, trying to keep a marriage strong with someone on the other side of the globe. In my imagination it is so difficult that I immediately shrink from it and say, “I could never do that!”
But do I assume that it is any less painful for them? That they have special powers that I don’t? That they don’t ever cry into their pillows at night and say, “I just can’t do this any longer!”
When we look at someone else and say, “I could never do that because it would be too hard,” we are in danger of dismissing their pain by making them into a superhuman that they are not. It’s just as hard for them as we imagine it would be for us. In saying, “I could never do that,” we are selling ourselves short.
We are selling God short.
The truth is we can do anything God calls us to. Our callings are different, obviously. But all of our callings involve pain. If we shrink back from a calling primarily because we don’t think we could handle the pain, perhaps something is wrong.
The verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” has become so cliché I almost hesitate to quote it. We know it’s true that God enables us to do what He calls us to. He tells us that His strength is made perfect in weakness.
But what does that look like? Does that mean our weakness goes away? That it doesn’t hurt anymore?
I don’t think so. Somehow God’s power is glorified in our weakness. When He calls us to do the hard thing, it’s hard, and it kills, and we feel like we are dying in the middle. And at that moment when we feel like we are dying, if someone says, “Wow, you’re amazing, I could never do what you’re doing because it would hurt too much!” that doesn’t really help.
Because it does hurt too much. And we can’t do it either. Until somehow we find ourselves on the other side with an aching heart and wonder how we got there.
Recently I heard someone teach on John 15 and the analogy of the vine and the branches. He said too often we interpret those verses as, “I can’t do anything unless I abide in the vine.” He thought a more accurate interpretation of those verses was more positive: “If you’re a Christian, you are already abiding in the vine, the Holy Spirit is in you, and you can bear fruit! Go do what you can!”
So when I see someone suffering, I want to think something like this instead: That must be really painful. How can I help bear their burdens? And if God calls me to, I know I can—and will—go through something like that, too.