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Friday, October 25, 2013

Setting the Lonely in Families

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families…”
-Psalm  68:5-6 (NIV) 


When Davion Only found out this summer that his mother had died, he was sitting alone in a public library, staring at a computer screen. She was only a name on a birth certificate for Davion. He was born while she was in jail, and he never knew her. But he cried when he saw her obituary online, along with her arrest record and her criminal background that included drug offenses and theft. He had come to find has family, and maybe himself. What he found instead was that the only family he knew anything about  had died just a few weeks earlier. 
     What he found was that he was, as he feared, alone.
     “When I found out she died, I was kind of angry,” Davion later said. He remembers thinking to himself at the time, “This is ridiculous. How did I not know?”
     Davion Only has been in foster care literally all his life. His fifteen years have played out over an endless succession of foster homes. He’s grateful for them, and recognizes that he hasn’t always been an easy kid to live with. But foster care isn’t family, and Davion went in to that library looking for family. When he saw his mother’s death notice he knew that dream was dead too.     
     But Davion also had faith, and while he sat there weeping over his lost family, he also found hope. 
     “I know God hasn't given up and I'm not either.”
     That’s what he told the assembled congregation at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church a couple of Sundays ago. And then he bravely told that church that he was looking for a family. “To love me forever,” he said. 
     “I'll take anyone,” he told the church that day. “Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be.”
     “I just want people to love me for who I am and to grab me and keep me in their house and love me no matter what.”
     Well of course that’s what he wants. How do we so easily lose track of the fact that every human being wants the same things? We all want someone to grab us and love us for who we are and no matter what. Oh, some have buried it deep. They wall it off because they’ve been burned too often before. They do the things they do to replace it or ease the pain of its absence. They try not to think about it, but it comes out in anger and hostility and coldness that just pushes what they want farther away. But, at heart, they’re no different from a 15-year-old boy standing in front of a church begging to be loved.
     Praise God that, somehow, through a foster parent or a friend or a teacher or however, the Holy Spirit has kept Davion’s heart open and searching and ready to to receive love. 
     The psalmist wrote that God is “a father to the fatherless”, that he “sets the lonely in families.” He goes on in that same Psalm to call God “a God who saves,” and I suspect that we believers here the echoes of the gospel in that phrase. “A God who saves.” A God who forgives our sins and overcomes our death and promises us a home with him forever in heaven.
     We think about salvation in those terms because people who more or less have what they need in this life can afford to spiritualize the promises of the gospel and talk about them as if they only have to do with the next life. 
     And then there are people like Davion Only. For people like him, God’s promise to be a father to the fatherless and set the lonely in families isn’t just a metaphor. It doesn’t call to mind the fellowship of the church or human relationships in heaven untouched by sin and death. For Davion, and for a lot of people just like him, there’d be no salvation like a home inhabited by people who know him completely and love him as he is without reservation, qualification, or hedge. 
     At least 30 times, the Bible expresses God’s concern for the parentless. But that’s not just to tell us something interesting about God. It’s to call God’s people to action. Israel’s law demanded care for orphans. They weren’t to be taken advantage of. The community was to provide for them. The prophets often called the people to task for failing in their responsibility for vulnerable members of society like those without families. Because God shows partiality to the parentless, his people are to be partial to the parentless as well. And, in fact, God usually chooses to care for the parentless through his people. Isaiah told his hearers that they were to take up the cause of the fatherless. At the other end of the Bible, James tells his readers that any faith that doesn’t lead us to care for orphans isn’t worth much to God. 
     Davion’s plea generated 10,000 calls, according to his social worker. That’s 10,000 people who have enquired about adopting Davion. He’ll almost certainly find the family he’s looking for, and that’s such good news. But it’s also worth pointing out that if all 10,000 of those families adopted ten children each, there would still be over 1,000 kids looking for a family. And that’s just in America.
     Not everyone can, or should, adopt a child - though it might not be as overwhelming as it seems at first blush. But let’s be sure to be supportive of families in our churches that do choose to adopt. Let’s encourage them, pray with them, and help them in every way we can. 
     Let’s be sure to support organizations that help place orphans with families, or organizations that work with the foster system to try to reunite families, or organizations that try to be a family for orphaned children. Our money, our presence, our love will help to put hands and faces on God’s love for the parentless.
     And let’s not forget that there are plenty of adults who are alone. Their families have pushed them aside. They’re alone in nursing homes, in institutions, in prisons. Some of them are even all alone in nice houses in the suburbs. They would love to believe that they matter to someone, especially to God, but they see no reason to think so. 
     “It's not really cool not to have anybody,” says Davion. He would know. 

     In the name of Jesus, may we help to set the lonely in families.

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