New International Version (NIV)
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families,1
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Amplified Bible (AMP)
5 A father of the fatherless and a judge and protector of the widows is God in His holy habitation.
6 God places the solitary in families and gives the desolate a home in which to dwell; He leads the prisoners out to prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
It is difficult to understand all that God meant when He inspired the Psalmist to write Psalm 68. It does give us a glimpse of His heart towards us, especially those of us who are “lonely” or alone. Throughout scriptures, God promises us that He will never forsake us. But even more He reveals the special place in His heart for those who are alone.
Child welfare is a relatively new phenomenon. Although far from perfect, prior to the establishment of government-run child welfare, it was the Church that cared for orphans. God makes it clear throughout scripture that it is the responsibility of the body of Christ to care for orphans. In the United States, there are three churches for every child needing to be adopted.
As I began this book I was in Florida with some of my sons and grandchildren. As I finish the book I am once again in Florida, but with all of my children, grandchildren, and many more “added” members of our family. As I look at each person, the verse “God puts the lonely in families” repeats in my mind. Looking around at the diverse group gathered together makes me proud of my core family because they truly “get it” – that healing occurs in families and that so many people, both children and adults, need the healing that a healthy, loving family can provide.
But what is a family? Certainly it cannot be defined in the sense of a nuclear family. One birth mother I worked with gave me a book entitled A Family is a Circle of People Who Love You. That simple assertion has become my working definition of family.
In a day in which more and more people are feeling alienated, Christians have a marvelous opportunity to be channels of God’s love. We can be the families—and the church family—in which God places the lonely.
People heal and thrive in relationships. Thankfully, our child welfare system is moving toward maintaining children in homes and not institutions, but children end up in institutions because there are not enough families willing to open their homes. I have often wondered how far reaching and transformative we might be, if each church family wrapped themselves around one family in their midst, who would then in turn reach out to one child or adult without a family. I include adults in this need because there are so many hurting adults who have never experienced a kind, loving family.
Jesus’ earthly ministry began in a synagogue on a Sabbath day in Nazareth. Those worshipping were eager for God to send the promised Messiah. At the time of Jesus’ life on earth, Romans were the controlling power, and the worshippers believed the Messiah would restore the kingdom to Israel. When Jesus introduced Himself to the world, He read from a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The prophecy was how He introduced himself to the world: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:17-21.
If we are to be people who reflect Jesus, then our purpose has to include that of Jesus – to give good news to the poor, to release the oppressed. And who are the prisoners? Are we to be part of freeing people from their prisons of pain and hurt? Are we to be agents of recovering the sight of those who are blind– who are so hurt that they cannot receive love—to the love of a family?
I believe as Christians, that is our calling.
We were created to love and to give love. We all have a need to belong. For many people, their original family is not a family where they can receive love and belonging. The family of God then becomes the family for these people. These types of adoptive relationships are seen over and over again in the Bible. Even Jesus was cared for by a man who was not His biological father. Healing occurs when bonds of love are developed within the relationships of the spiritual family. This family provides the opportunity for giving and receiving love. But the church family must be open to providing this connectedness to hurting people.
James 1:27 states that “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.”
In their book, The Life Model; Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You, authors Friesen, Wilder, Bierling, Koepcke, and Pool (2000), who have run a Christian counseling clinic, The Shepherd’s House for over 30 years in Southern California, state the following:
The group we had identified as being especially wounded – those cut off from the support of their biological families – is the very group God was commanding us in the Bible to take very special care of: “widows, orphans, and strangers.” What do these groups of people have in common? They are not a part of a family because they have been cut off by death, dysfunction or distance…Wounded people need live, loving families. That is what the family of God is supposed to be. For severely wounded people, spiritual adoption means the difference between life and death, between recovery and destitution.
The authors conducted research with a selected sample of churches across the country. They state, “We found that when they set aside monies and created programs for wounded people, those programs eventually got drained and died. But, when churches embraced and pulled wounded people into the center of strong families, a surprising phenomenon called synergy developed. Synergy is what happens when two agents are combined and they increase each other’s effectiveness. People are energized to new levels in the church when the weak and the strong are combined. The church needs the wounded, and wounded hearts need the church. And synergy develops most powerfully when both of these groups are living from the hearts Jesus gave them” (Friesen et al., 2000).
As a church lives out “true religion,” the result is beneficial not only to those whom the church reaches, but also for those who are reaching out and extending their lives and families to children, people who need a family. The blessing is reciprocal. But the acting of reaching out to wounded people has to be done in humility, love, and grace.
1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.” Our approach to people must be as Jesus connected with people. As discussed in this book, our approach to traumatized children has to be one of calmness, acceptance, structure, and unconditional love. This same approach, which I believe reflects Jesus’ approach, also is what is most effective with all wounded people.
The four tenets of effective trauma work, as we discussed in Chapter Six, include safety, emotional management, recognition of losses, and providing hope for the future. People heal when they feel safe and in an environment that can handle and manage emotions. Relationships with traumatized people need to feel safe and not overwhelming for either person. In addition, the losses the wounded person has experienced must to be acknowledged and addressed. Often these loss experiences trigger loss issues for the “healthy” person, so awareness of these responses is vital to successful relationship building. Finally, providing a focus on a positive future with hope is essential for healing.
As we as individuals and church families intentionally reach out to hurting people, as we embrace them in our spiritual families, the reward of giving far outweighs the gift.
When I look at the depth of my family, and at the sheer numbers–and more to come!!—our family has grown to contain, I see great riches. My heart is full because my life is full. I am thankful for the people God has brought into my life and into my family, and I wish this fullness for all.
I recognize that not everyone can open their homes to other peoples’ children. That is the talent, the gift I have been given. But everyone can reach out to support those who do have the capacity to open their homes and serve as the adoptive or spiritual adoptive parent to a child or adult.
James 2:14 – 25
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless2? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” 3 and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Our faith is strengthened as we reach out and minister to others. Simple acts of service for an adoptive family are remarkably helpful. Providing childcare, preparing a meal, doing laundry, cleaning the house – these small acts of service can provide an adoptive parent with much-needed support. Focus on the Family provides the statistic I mentioned above – if one in every three churches supports one family to adopt one child, then all children in the United States foster care system would have a “forever family.”
Not everyone is called to adopt, but we are all called to serve. Changing lives is an extremely rewarding calling. The lives of the children who lived in my home were changed not just because of our immediate family, but also because of the support of our extended family, our church family, and the Christian community around us. Not only are lives revolutionized through the ministry of adoption, but churches that embrace the ministry of adoption are also revitalized. God does “put the lonely in families” because He knows that the family unit is where healing occurs. My challenge to the Christian community is to intentionally consider our responsibility to the orphan community and to respond in the way that God calls each one of us. Everyone has a gift or a talent that can support an adoptive family or a “lonely person” who needs a supportive “adoptive” adult.
Within ourselves, within our families, within our communities, we have the tools and the love and to heal those who hurt. Margaret Mead says it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”