“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
For years, I didn’t really connect at the heart with this verse, as I hadn’t met any orphans or widows. My friends, for the most part, had two parents. One or two had been adopted, but everyone had parents. During my growing-up years, I assumed that my friends liked their parents and had happy homes. By the time I entered college, I was beginning to discern flaws in my assumptions. Although many of my university friends lived only forty miles from the school (as did I), several of them complained about going home. Apparently, they didn’t have the positive associations I had with being “home.” A generation later, after raising five children of our own, my husband and I are painfully aware that we were uniquely blessed with parents who loved us and were concerned about our well-being enough to invest heavily (in tangible and intangible ways) in our future as adults.
Moreover, since I had grown up in a home full of visiting relatives and friends, with lots of entertaining and delicious home-cooked meals, I never once considered NOT welcoming others to our home after I myself married. My husband and I thought it perfectly normal to host all manner of people at all manner of events. Since we wanted to know where our kids were, we made certain they knew they could always bring friends home — and they did! It was not always convenient, and we often suffered from sleep deprivation, but our home was noisy and happy. In the process of hosting all these young people, we heard their stories. Some of them had already faced significant challenges in their young lives, especially in terms of family relationships. One young man even informed us that we were “weird,” or, at the very least, highly abnormal. When we asked him why he thought so, he explained that it was rare indeed to have five children living together in the same family with their same two parents who still loved each other. With this young man’s observation, I began to appreciate our family situation, which I certainly did not deserve and had often taken for granted.
It has been 16 years since that remark jarred my perceptions of the realities around me. In that span of time, our society has continued to witness the breakdown of traditional concepts of family, and many adults, as well as children, are without relational moorings. Many have never known stability in relationship with another person; stability and commitment have never been modeled for them, and quite naturally, they have no concept of how to develop trust-based relationships with anyone else. It is impossible, indeed, to give love and faithfulness when you have never been on the receiving end of real love or trust. As a culture, it seems we are to some degree emotionally and relationally bankrupt. Most of us, myself included, have lost the sense of neighborhood that a few of us remember from our childhood. Neighbors come and go, locked in the busyness of soccer practices, school, and work. Real friendships have been replaced by circumstantial bonding born of necessity (helping with our child’s classroom party once or twice a year, or serving on the same rotation at work).
When Jesus related the parable of the good Samaritan, his point was that the Samaritan man, the one the Jews had been trained to hate, is the one that acted as a neighbor and friend to the wounded man who had been brutally assaulted. Moreover, the injured man never asked the Samaritan for assistance; instead the Samaritan noticed the needy man’s plight and made a conscious decision to be significantly inconvenienced to help him. (See Luke 10:29-37.) By contrast, those who logically would have been expected to help their injured neighbor had passed by on the other side of the road.
I often ask myself if I, too, have failed to recognize the widows and orphans along my path, just as the unhelpful “neighbors” in the parable passed by that assaulted man in the ditch. More and more, God is exposing the relational widowhood and the orphaned condition of the desperately lonely people around me. Many people may be married, but in name only; they lack the intimacy and genuine friendship that a healthy marriage should provide. Many children (even adults) are, in fact, relational orphans; they were never truly parented and have never been affirmed by any authority figure in their lives. I meet people all the time who have never once been told they are of value. This emotionally orphaned condition is no respecter of persons; it crosses all socioeconomic boundaries and is of epidemic proportions in our American culture.
Recently, God began to challenge me regarding how far He will reach to touch people’s hearts. Our community is teeming with people who have never experienced real love, the kind of love that is completely unconditional. Many have had parents who suffered with various addictions or were otherwise incapacitated in terms of being able to demonstrate genuine love and affection to their children on a consistent basis. These motherless, fatherless people are all around me. All I have to do is ask God to show them to me. Sometimes I must go to them and make a concerted effort to get to know them; they rarely come to me. Psalm 68:6 states that “God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing;but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Surely God wants me to demonstrate HIS heart to other people, that He might pour His love out on them.
The other day I heard a moving account of a young Christian American family who sold all they had and uprooted their three young children to move to China (for no logical reason other than obedience to what they perceived was God’s call). After a season of trials and challenges, they now run an orphanage dedicated to caring for handicapped and disabled children that no one else wants — the lost and the “throwaways.” They assert that these children teach them tremendous lessons about the unconditional, persistent love of Father God for us. These parents have risked all the wealth and position they could have had in their comfortable life at home to love children who can never pay them back, children for whom there may never be education or careers or position, children whose job is simply to receive their love. (For their story, see http://www.loavesandfishesintl.com/)
Although not all of us are called to abandon ship and move to a foreign nation to love those the world has cast aside, we ARE all called to demonstrate the power of God’s love to a lost and dying world, in a personal way. As a result, I am testing the waters in our community and reaching out to a part of the population that is motherless, fatherless, and friendless — in this case, victims of human trafficking. Can I solve all their problems? Certainly not! Am I willing to be inconvenienced, to listen to their stories, and pray with them? Absolutely. They are already changing my life; God is using these “orphans” and “widows”to show me more of Himself. In spite of our cultural differences and vastly disparate backgrounds, I recognize MUCH of myself in these precious captives. Apart from the fact that my family actively showed me love and kindness, I am realizing that, at heart, they are not so different from me after all. Their captivity has just taken a different form. Jesus died to save the lost, and He was willing to be extremely inconvenienced for me (to say the least!) in the process. Certainly God must long for me to allow myself to be a little inconvenienced for the sake of reaching one of these precious ones He desires to touch. (At least God hasn’t required me to move to a faraway nation…..yet!)
O God, open my eyes to see those who need Your love — and make me willing to demonstrate Your love to them however You would have me do it! Make my baby steps in this area count for Your Kingdom purposes!