Sometimes they’re awkward. At times we just plain can’t stand them, but everyone has one somewhere along the line and there’s no getting around it…it’s our families. God established the unit of the family at the dawn of creation, and it’s clear that he values relationships and does not want us to go it alone.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” -Genesis 2:18
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” -Genesis 1:27-28
We can look at models of government, school systems, and even churches and see rampant discord and dissolution. The family should be the refuge from this strife, an institution created and ordained by God. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially in modern times. Marriage is often entered into casually and complacently, and child-rearing sometimes has the same attitude. Sometimes out of no one’s particular fault or choosing, mothers are left without husbands and children without parents. In the same manner that God calls us to care for all people, He has made it clear that we also ought to look out for those who have lost their earthly family ties. As a children’s ministry worker, how can we communicate this truth to our kids? Even more importantly, how can we encourage and guide them to actually doing something that will help?
First, let’s take a peek at what God has to say about widows and orphans… as “adoptive” Father of all, we know that God cares for all people with or without families:
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5
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
Obviously we are to care for widows and orphans, and in so doing we act out God’s lovingkindness as well. We see in the Bible many traditions and examples of philanthropy and compassion towards widows. It was a cultural rule to care for them, since without a husband to provide they were pretty stuck and helpless. Old and New Testaments exhibit this rule…
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. -Acts 6:1
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. –Deuteronomy 14:28
But are these rules and principles still relevant to us? Sure, widows were provided for in the Bible…but men also wore leather sandals and robes and greeted one another with kisses, and we don’t so much follow those practices (thank goodness). Does the spirit of the instruction still stand? If we examine the word of God it is plain that it does. And if we observe our modern surroundings we witness great need. God has given the church especially (and people in general) a definite and resounding responsibility to look after and protect one another.
This is not generational; it is timeless. If anything, we have even more prominently critical roles now, with so many families crumbling. The statistics are disheartening. In the United States, there are currently more than 100,000 legal orphans in foster care awaiting adoptive families (source: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport22.pdf). Thousands more are in foster care “limbo” awaiting parental involvement or trials, or living with one or both parents in jail. There has also been a tremendous rise of single mothers. Current demographics estimate that over half of children under 18 will grow up (at least partially) with an unwed mother. Studies also show that development in a single-parent home creates far more challenges than living with two parents, and also increases risk for poverty (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/18/the-unbelievable-rise-of-single-motherhood-in-america-over-the-last-50-years/).
Back to the question of communicating this to youth…how does this impact students today, and what can they do about it? For one thing, as those called to ministry, we have a God-given responsibility to support and encourage our students. Hopefully many in our congregations have stable environments at home and helpful family systems, but there will also be many who are not so fortunate. Our task is to become a loving support team for those kids, providing the nurturing care that may be lacking at home. In turn, we want to emphasize and remind students that no one should be alone and that God entrusts us to care for one another and bear one another’s burdens. Get children and teens involved in contributing to outreach programs that do this. For example…
- Support local foster care however possible: this could mean prayer, financial contribution, letters, or “adopting” a foster family for Christmas or long-term
- During the holidays (or any time) seek to help in and around community by packing shoe boxes for children around the world who are in need.
- Look to elderly care by visiting nursing homes, “adopting” grandparents, or making crafts/blankets/etc.
- Be a Christmas angel to support children with loved ones in prison.
- Care for those around us with lacking family support.
Those are just a few ideas…brainstorm with youth other thoughts that they might have for involvement. Pray with them over ways to help. And lead by example, demonstrating care and concern for all, and loving all as family, the way our Heavenly Father loves us.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. –Galatians 6:1