My small, rural church in the Ozarks is teeming with children. In the life of this congregation they are both disturbance and delight. I am as likely to be correcting them for swinging riotously from the banisters as I am to praise them for behaving so nicely in service. All told, our fellowship would be a hollow and lonely place without these precious little ones.
It occurred to me this past weekend, as they all lined up to have their sermon notes checked and stars rewarded, that half of this shuffling, giggling crowd of kids come from broken homes. Four are orphans; drugs took both parents, and a grandma now raises them. Four others are separated from their mother and father; grandparents have stepped in to raise them too. Drugs again! Still four more siblings from multiple and abandoning fathers are being raised by a single mother. A grandmother and uncle bring them to church each week.
I see all twelve round, grinning faces now in my mind’s eye.
All these children have been traumatized by their dysfunctional experiences. But by the grace of God, they are remarkably resilient, happily mixing with those children blessed enough to be flourishing in healthy homes with both a mom and a dad. But still, the pain and scars are evident in weary eyes.
In any given church service hearts are softened, if not broken, by the prayer requests of these little ones: “Pray for my mommy, pray for my daddy.” Pray we do, and sing. Sing and pray through that brokenness. Surrounded by the whole church, the Word of God also speaks. A psalm of David and the words of Jesus whisper comfort and healing:
When my father and my mother forsake me,
Then the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10).
“Let the little children come to Me . . .” (Mark 10:14).
How does the Lord take care for the orphan? How do the little ones come to Him?
I can point to His Spirit and His Word, the Bible. Both are present and available for comfort and healing. But through the community of faith the Word and Spirit work most regularly and effectively. It is through people at church that Jesus reaches out and walks alongside. It is through the church of God that the fatherless find families and the homeless find homes. It is by His people that those most vulnerable are seen, heard, and embraced.
“God sets the solitary in families,” the psalmist David sings (Psalm 68:6). He does this specifically by a people He has made for Himself. Each local church should be His hands that gather and mend the bruised. When we move beyond our comfort zones, the church is His blessing to all the broken families of the earth. Thereby, He is “a father to the fatherless . . . God in His holy habitation” (v. 5).
David had parents to nurture and raise him; so did Christ. Their words show what every parent knows, that even in the best circumstances, no two parents are enough to give all we need to grow and flourish into the children of God. We must all look up beyond our biological and social gifts (or curses) to our Maker, our sure, true Provider and Sustainer. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus tells all His disciples. “I will come to you” (John 14:18). He has come, and is coming!
As I imagine them, I look out over my congregation. I see in every eye, child and adult, that we were all orphans before Jesus found us, that the family we needed and longed for is what He has given, what we have in this home we call church. Whatever our unique personal circumstances, together we are His, and we are each other’s. I see in each of us the brother and sister, the mother and father that God has gifted us with, in Him, for eternity.
Let the children come. Make room for them as Jesus has made room for us.
We are His and we are family.