We recently said goodbye to the little boy we had been fostering for over a year. Looking back over that time, these were the thoughts that came to mind.
Being a foster carer is, I’ve decided, very much like being God.
Now, before you jump to the assumption that I have finally gone over the edge and flipped into megalomania, let me make it clear that I am not claiming omnipresence, omnipotence, omni-competence or any other ‘omni’ (except for omnivorous, though even that is a bit restricted at present since we’re on a diet). I am not divine, eternal, or perfect. Not at all. Not even close.
How then, is fostering Godlike?
Look at it like this…
When you become a foster carer, you take on responsibility for a small person who you know is going to be coming to you with some emotional baggage. The reason kids need foster carers is that they’ve had something bad happen to them, and that is always going to leave a mark. You know that they’ve got problems, you may or may not know what they are and how they present. But, nonetheless, you commit yourself to this person.
They will need feeding, clothing, a place to sleep, things to occupy their time – just the normal, basic needs. They will also need, to one degree or another, reassurance, comfort, nurture, security and so on – also normal basic needs. They will probably have lacked at least some of these things in the past. But its your job to provide them. Which shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?
Except that problems start to arise, sometimes right from the start. They need food – but perhaps they’re not used to eating, or are only used to eating certain things (‘I only like chicken nuggets from MacDonald’s’), or want to eat all the time (‘I’m STILL hungry!’). They need clothes, but even though its cold and wet, they won’t wear a coat because it’s too itchy or too tight or the wrong colour. They don’t like their bed, their bedroom, the light’s too bright, it’s too dark: they want to spend all their time inside or outside or playing computer games or watching inappropriate clips on YouTube.
Failure is inevitable. There are too many needs, too many wants. Often the wants are in contradiction to the needs, or even to each other. Often the wants are simply not possible. Often the needs are so deeply buried that the child cannot even express them, except through a litany of wants that can never be fully satisfied precisely because they are not the needs.
So, despite all the care and wisdom and patience and playfulness, all the empathy and sympathy and acceptance and curiosity and hard work and love – you fail.
These kids know about failure. They have been failed before. And it’s almost like a comfort zone for them, because they know how to react to failure. They’ve got this. Their response is already programmed in, ready to go. It might be withdrawal, silence, ignoring you and all the outside world. It might be tears, it might be tantrums. It might show itself in viscous verbal assaults, in demands to be moved to another foster carer. It might come out in self harm, in running, in hiding, in throwing or direct physical abuse of the carers or other targets.
And afterwards – that’s when you need to be like God. You need to forgive. You need to repair. You need to pick up the pieces (often literally) and start again, perhaps from scratch, to comfort and heal and love this broken little person who has been so let down by life and who will never be able to even begin to heal unless you or someone else is there to help them. Again and again and again.
Not actually being God, we can fail at this as well. Our patience runs out. We get compassion fatigue. We’re not wise enough to know the best thing to do. Or sometimes we’re just too tired and fed up to do it. Perhaps we are the ones to withdraw, or get angry, or just stop giving a toss.
And yet – and yet we still care. Because we would never have got into that situation in the first place if we didn’t care, and once you’ve started to care for these vulnerable, hurting kids, you can’t really stop. Not permanently. Their need calls you you, even as your own need for a bit of space and sanity is telling you to walk away and stop trying to do something so unrewarding and hopeless.
So we try again. And dredge up a bit more love, and give them yet another opportunity to repair, to heal, to laugh.
That is when we are most Godlike.
Because it is exactly what God does to the entire world, the entire human race, perhaps the entire Universe. He finds a bit more love, a bit more compassion, a bit more grace, and pours it out on all these broken, angry, desperate people. Many of them will throw it back in his face, turn their back on what is offered. Even when he came in person, they rejected him. But he still goes on loving, caring, trying.
And because he is God, and because he has infinite reserves to draw on, eventually he has breakthroughs and successes and sometimes finally gets into people’s hearts and begins to heal them.
Therefore I have hope. Hope for our little foster boy. Hope for all the foster kids of the world. And all the others. Hope for myself. While there is infinite love, there is always the possibility of healing.
I’m not God. But I can show a little bit of God in the world, and bring a bit of healing into a little boys life. And in that too, there is hope. For him, and for me.