Foster parenting is a continual struggle to come to terms with our lack of control. While we are responsible for all the practical decisions that affect the child in our care, we have no control over the major decisions that affect their future. This is a precarious position to find yourself in and has been one of my major challenges in foster parenting. Sometimes I have tried to respond to this loss of control by worrying or even trying to manipulate the situation to go in a direction I think is best, but ultimately I have had to let go of my need to be in charge of what happens.
So what do you do when your heart is heavy in a situation where you have no control? You pray. Prayer becomes not a last resort when you’ve done all you can do, but a first line of defense since there was really nothing you could do to begin with. In most of our prayers it seems simple to just be honest. We are telling God what we want and generally don’t have to consider all the implications. Praying for your foster child isn’t quite that simple. Am I willing to pray that a biological father wouldn’t be found? Or that he would be the kind of man who would want nothing to do with his child? Is that really what I want? Do I pray against a parent’s recovery because I want this child to have the stability of a home where substance abuse was never an issue? Do I pray that Grandma won’t step in and help? That a parent will be picked up by police? That a prison sentence will be long? These are the uncomfortable moments in my prayers where I face my own ugliness when it comes to how badly I want what I think is best to happen.
I don’t think we should be dishonest in our prayers. Sometimes facing our own ugliness is a necessary and important step. I know God wants to hear our heart, even when our heart is flawed. We have the ability to come to him and share our struggles, but sometimes the many possible ramifications of my prayers paralyze me and keep me from praying at all. So when I have found myself confused about how to pray for my foster child and their family, here’s where I’ve found comfort:
Pray that the family would have wisdom. It is really difficult for an unhealthy person to make healthy decisions. Whether that decision is to commit to parenting or that decision is to choose relinquishment because it is best for their child, we want parents to have wisdom. This is a prayer that requires no conflicted emotions. Wisdom is good and important no matter what else is happening. James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to you.” We need to pray that the families of our foster children would humble themselves and ask God for wisdom as they navigate their end of the system. And we desperately need wisdom to do the delicate work of loving a child while supporting their family.
Pray that I would be the hands and feet of Christ. I need strength to do the physical tasks associated with being a foster parent. I need a humble heart that wants to work with the birth family and love them. I need grace in dealing with a difficult court system that doesn’t seem to value the opinion of those most closely involved with the daily care of these children. I need to be an advocate for the needs of this child even when that seems to conflict with what other members of the team want. In all of those elements of foster parenting, I want people to see Jesus. I work to keep Jesus in my mind as I’m sending emails or changing diapers or writing in the communication notebook for Mom. Jesus who welcomed children. Jesus who offered mercy to a woman caught in adultery. Jesus who told us when we offer care in his name, it is as though we are doing it for him. When I want to pray that things would go in the way I think would be best, I instead focus on praying as Jesus did— not my will, but God’s.
Pray Micah 6:8. I have so often thought of this verse through our foster parenting journey. It is a beautifully simple way to remember the heart of what we’re doing. We are to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. This has been a reorienting verse for me as I focus on remembering that the kind of abuse and neglect our children from crisis have experienced rarely comes at the hands of healthy parents. When I pray for justice and mercy, I pray it for not only our foster children, but for their parents as well. I long to see justice for the oppressed and sometimes “the oppressed” are as much the parents as the children. Parents who were themselves the victims of abuse, neglect, poverty, rape, domestic violence, etc. I want to do justly by being a vehicle for justice and love for the innocent child. I want to LOVE mercy and not just begrudgingly offer it when I think someone has earned it. When I’m tempted to compare myself to the parents of the child, I need to remember to walk humbly with my God—a God who loved me when I was entirely unlovable and was in rebellion against him.
Admit that I don’t know what to pray. I find immeasurable comfort in knowing “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27) There are times I just weep. There are times I am silent. There are times I just admit that I don’t know best, but I trust a God who does. In those desperate moments I have found myself praying the words of this Sara Groves song, which I’m guessing wasn’t actually written about foster parenting, but absolutely speaks the words of my heart:
Prayers for This Child
I do not know how I am to pray for this child
As a mother I don’t want my baby denied
But in the waiting in the waiting
Every instinct in me wants to shield him from pain
Take the arrows of misery heartache and blame
But in the sorrow in the sorrow
I learned to hold on
I only have two eyes – be all seeing
I only have two hands – be everywhere
I do not know enough – to be all knowing
I give this baby up into your care
I do not know how, how to pray for this child
I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild
but in the trial in the trial
I learned to hold on
And in the trial, in the trial
I learned to hold on to the heart of God
Maralee is a mother of six pretty incredible kids ages seven and under. Four of my kids were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care) and two of our sons we made ourselves. Prior to becoming parents my husband and I were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise17 boys during our five year tenure. I’m crazy passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making my husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and doing everything I do for God’s glory.
Read more from Maralee at www.amusingmaralee.com.