Recently, my wife and I made the decision to become foster parents. We went through a required 10-week training program, completed online courses, filled out paperwork, compiled a family photo album, completed two home studies…and now we are just waiting on our final approval.
I am excited. And terrified.
I never thought that I would be able to be a foster parent, for myriad reasons: I am too emotional and could not imagine myself being able to attach to a child and then watch him/her leave my care forever; I have to think about the emotional, physical, and spiritual protection of my own two children, and there is no telling what could happen when another child from a broken home gets added into our daily lives; I am far too busy to deal with all the challenges of foster care; and, honestly, I kind of like my life the way it is.
And on top of all of that, I just have never felt “called” to be a foster parent.
The idea of “calling” is used often in Christian circles to talk about the deep desire and conviction that connects our passions and our gifting, and that drives us to pursue something difficult and life-changing. We talk about our life’s purpose as “God’s calling” on our lives. The assumption is that people who do bold and risky things for the sake of the Kingdom of God do so because they have been specifically “called” to do so. "Not everyone can sell their home and move halfway around the world to plant a church,” we say. “I have never felt called to do that.” Or, “Adoption is great, I just don’t feel personally called to it.”
The trouble with that assumption is that it is based on feelings.
Don’t get me wrong: I most certainly believe that our feelings are often - perhaps always - involved in pursuing a calling. I just wonder if our expectations of what those feelings are and, more importantly, when we encounter them might just be hindering us from action.
There are definitely moments and pursuits in my life where I can say that I did feel a “calling.” This was most profoundly experienced in my journey from being a public school teacher to becoming a pastor. There was a deep, emotional longing or desire for something - something I couldn’t fully see or grasp at the time; there were a series of influencing voices and factors that all came to a head, encouraging movement and response on my part; there was a vision for the future accompanied by intense feelings of both excitement and fear; and, ultimately, I felt as if a question was being placed in front of me to which I was going to have to respond. Answering this “call” was powerful, profound, and emotional. Truly, this was one specific moment I can point to where I heard the very voice of God “calling” me, and I felt a powerful awareness of His presence and anointing for that vision.
That is what it felt like to be “called." To be sure, the emotion and clarity of such an experience is a beautiful, affirming gift. These are the kinds of mysterious moments that so many of us wait for. Unfortunately, the expectation and elusiveness of these emotional confirmations seem to serve more often to limit us rather than propel us into movement. Believing, whether consciously or otherwise, that great risks cannot or should not be taken without a “calling,” we settle for passivity instead of purpose. We leave hard work and sacrificial choices to “the called,” and relegate our own mission to a life much more manageable. All too often I have heard people within the Church talk about their struggles to find meaning and purpose in their lives by saying that they just don’t know what they are called to do.
The truth is that the shift I experienced in my life cannot be defined and fully understood by the one single moment where I felt “called.” Rather, that moment of impact was the result of many days, months, and years of listening, asking, dreaming, and obeying. And this same moment, while powerful and personal, would be meaningless if not followed by a lifetime committed to more listening and asking and dreaming and obeying. The feeling that I had was overwhelming, and served as turning point in my commitment, but it was not the beginning of my obedience, nor was it the end. Becoming a pastor, for me, came from a growing understanding of what the Bible teaches about mission, the Church, spiritual gifts, and discipleship. I had been living into those truths - and seeing fruit in my life as a result - for years before it all just “clicked.” The truth is that I was becoming a pastor long before that single moment of clarity, and I have been continually becoming a pastor ever since. The emotion and intimacy of that moment of calling was needed for me, on that specific journey, in order to strengthen my resolve, bolster my faith, and affirm my desire.
I don’t feel called to be a foster parent. I never had an emotional moment of clarity where I felt as if God was specifically speaking into my heart to pursue this. I do not feel like God spoke specifically and personally to me on the matter. There is no great spiritual awakening that has accompanied any part of this process. As a matter of fact, this has been largely an unemotional journey for me thus far.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that neither my wife nor I have felt called, we are about to take this step - one that will undoubtedly change our lives. Is this foolishness? Are we getting into something that outside of our created purpose? Are we stepping into something that God has not specifically designed for us?
I don’t think so.
An attempt to summarize our thought process goes something like this:
The global need for adoption and orphan care has been growing in our awareness through a variety of relationships and influences for the past 5-6 years.
We looked at our lives (home, jobs, resources, etc.) with a little bit of global perspective, and acknowledged that we are some of the richest people in the world.
We read the Bible. It says to give it all up to those in need and count it all as loss for the sake of the Gospel.
When Erica would cry over our kids’ baby pictures and talk about wanting another child, I stopped laughing and shaking my head and we instead started asking, “Why not?”
We started asking questions about adoption and foster care.
We read the Bible. It says to care for orphans and widows, not just if we feel like it, but always.
We asked more questions, like “why should we spend upwards of $30,000 for an international adoption when there are literally hundreds of kids within 15 miles of us who need to know that they are loved?*
We thought about redemption and what it could look like for a family - not just a child - to be loved and given the kind of support they need to turn a broken situation around.
We started talking to our kids about it. They embraced the idea immediately.
We read the Bible. It didn’t say anything about waiting for a feeling or a moment of clarity. It says things like “you will be my witnesses,” and “therefore, go and make disciples,” and “we are Christ’s ambassadors.”
We said, “Ok.”
As of this writing, we are waiting on the final approval to be certified as foster parents. It is possible that within 2-3 weeks we could have a foster child placed in our home.
I still don’t feel called to do this. But I know that I am called to it.
* I have no beef with international adoption. I have wonderful family and friends who have adopted internationally. I have two internationally adopted sisters. It is very possible that we will do that one day. But questions about corruption, cost, etc. do need to be asked and considered.