“Please let me know if there’s anything I can do”.
This is a statement that I’m frequently guilty of using in my daily language, as a pastor’s wife and as a social worker at an adoption agency. It so quickly rolls off my tongue when talking to a grieving member of our congregation, and it’s a simple closing of an email to a struggling adoptive parent who just brought home their adopted child.
While most of us use this phrase with kind intentions, is it really helpful?
Jumping in with Practical Service
At least for me, I’ve found that this phrase has become a safe way of displaying hospitality and caring without jumping in too deep into that person’s “muck.” In a sense, I’m putting the ball in their court to reach out to me and tell me what they need, but it’s pretty likely that they have no clue what they actually need.
If you’re walking through the woods and see a tree lying on top a person’s leg, would you say, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do”? NO WAY! You would recognize that the person is in a crisis and jump right in to help them in a practical and tangible way.
The same is true for struggling adoptive families in our churches who are experiencing a crisis within their family. Whether or not you are a ministry leader or have a background in adoption, foster care or crisis intervention, that struggling family will be blessed by your help. But when that struggling family is so deep in the muck of their crisis, they won’t be able to send a well-thought out and bullet-pointed email with the list of needs they currently have within their home. They are likely in survival mode and are focusing more on the crisis at hand.
Rather than put the ball in that family’s court to come up with the ways that we can help them, let’s jump in and get our hands dirty right along with them. Offer to make a meal so the mom will have fewer things to worry about on a hectic evening. Offer to help with transporting one of the other children to and from their dance class so the family can have one-on-one time with their struggling kiddo. Offer to meet up with the adoptive father for coffee or to go to the driving range and give him the opportunity to vent about his defeat and frustration. Jump in and help before the family is in full-blown crisis and their world is visibly crumbling in front of you.
Why We Need Our Communities
Being an adoptive or foster parent can be very isolating. In my work, I routinely hear families saying, “I signed up for this,” “I waited so long for this,” or “I don’t have the right to complain.” Because adoptive and foster parents go through months of trainings, meetings with social workers, and intense scrutiny about their home and family life, many think that they should have their act together and shouldn’t have parenting struggles.
This is so far from the truth. While many families choose to walk into the life of parenting a child or children who have experienced trauma and loss, they don’t do so with the impression that they’ve got it all figured out. Would any of these statements be appropriate to say to a parent with a struggling biological child? What these families (really, what ALL families) need is a village of supporters who are willingly to actively walk alongside the family.
One example that comes to my mind is a family who was placed with a toddler from the foster care system. The family had very little time to prepare for the child’s arrival. Although the child was still a toddler, this was the first child this family had ever parented, and they were shocked by how clueless they actually felt. The parents spent their first few days struggling by themselves to figure out the ins and outs of this “foster parenting thing.”
It wasn’t until a group of other parents from their church stepped up, offered group playdates, and started dropping off meals, age-appropriate toys, and clothes, that the foster family realized the support network that surrounded them. This family initially felt the isolation that can come with the foster and adoptive parenting process, but they are now thriving with the support of their community.
The social worker in me is asking the local church to step up and be the hands and feet of Christ in these families lives. The pastor’s wife in me is convicted by the countless times that I’ve said that placating statement as a way to verbally show love and concern, but secretly thinking about refilling my coffee cup in the fellowship hall. I pray that we all feel the conviction to step up and do more to tangibly help, rather than sharing a passing phrase.
As someone who is currently going through the foster/adoption process, I know it is only a matter of time until I am in the midst of the “muck” of parenting a child from a traumatic past. It is my hope and prayer that, even though I may not verbally list out my needs in the midst of my crisis, that you as the church, as those who are called to come alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ in your congregation and church family, will step into my life and bless my family with tangible support. I may try to push you away at first, but please know, your willingness to help me tackle my mountain of laundry or your gift of a home-cooked meal for my family will mean more than any passing phrase.
“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us”. 2 Corinthians 1:4 (MSG)
“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
Lisa Bills is a Christ-follower, pastor’s wife, social worker, foster-parent-in-training, Pinterest-addict, and dog-mommy to Olive. She has worked as the Adoption and Pregnancy Counseling Supervisor with Bethany Christian Services in Western Pennsylvania for the past 9.5 years and lives in a small town with a weird name, Zelienople (pronounced Zillion-ople).