Carrying the Pain | My Journey Through Foster Care, Part 12

To those enduring the lifelong effects of a childhood spent in foster care: I know the shape and weight of the pain that you pack and carry.

Paul Knowlton June 20, 2016
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Jesus, like everyone before and since, entered life with a physical body and within the context of physical family. We all, undeniably, have at least that much in common with him. For many, like Jesus, both the body and family are strong and these people begin their human experience on good footing. Some suffer with a weakened or failing body and ask why. Others suffer with a weakened or failing family and ask why. My experience, akin to the more than four hundred thousand kids currently in the United States foster care systems, is the latter.

Through my foster care experience, I found betrayal, abandonment, reunification, and resurrection. Accordingly, I find commonality with Jesus. I think my fellow foster and former foster care youth, following my example as I follow the example of Jesus, can experience an easier pilgrimage with the right theological perspective.

We each have or will experience unnecessary pain and the suffering that follows. Sometimes our suffering flows from the pain of our own evil deeds; sometimes it stems from the evil deeds of others. Human are so casual about this trifecta of evil, pain, and suffering that we typically, and unthinkingly, refer to it simply as “God’s will.” Can evil, pain, and suffering really be God’s will? I understand the God that Jesus taught to be lovingly, not evilly, reliable and consistent. I invite you to think about foster care from the perspective of the Stations of the Cross.

Station I: Jesus is Condemned

Pilate asks Jesus, “What have you done?” (John 18:35). In response, Jesus says, “…I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (v. 37). The truth Jesus spoke of and acted out during his lifetime is just the righteous life available to everyone through communion with God. As those words are reportedly the testimony of Jesus, they are the insight we have into the will of God for Jesus. Testifying to this truth caused Jesus to be betrayed by jealous leaders of his family of faith.

What can I offer the six-year-old entering foster care or the thirty-six-year-old still languishing from the experience? I say I know the pain of your betrayal and the suffering of your abandonment. Jesus knows them as well. Your experience was not the work of a lovingly reliable and consistent God, the God that I profess and that Jesus taught. I don’t attribute to that God the evil that caused my suffering and I encourage you not to, either. Regrettably, someone else is the cause; probably someone so close to you that it’s too painful to consider, so that’s another discussion. Meanwhile, I advocate you reject any theology that points to Jesus’ God as responsible for your pain and suffering.

Station II: Jesus Carries His Cross

“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha” (John 19:16b-17). Could Jesus carrying his cross to his death be within the will of a lovingly reliable and consistent God? How? Jesus was lovingly reliable and consistent in word and deed, acting according to both the Law of Moses and Spirit of God. Jesus says he reflected God: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). God, then, as far as we can tell from Jesus’ testimony of word and deed, is lovingly reliable and consistent.

I began my foster care journey with a paper grocery bag. All of my possessions and every tie to my family were in that bag. Of course, it’s impossible for a paper bag to be as physically heavy as the wooden cross Jesus carried. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, however, every time I carried it, the weight of that bag felt as crushing to me as I imagine the cross did to Jesus. I am not alone in this feeling.

What can I offer the crying seven-year-old who is again packing her paper grocery bag, or the homeless twenty-seven-year-old who is again carrying his paper grocery bag through the night? I say, I know the shape and weight of the pain that you pack and carry. Jesus knows them as well. Is this God’s will for you? No, I have no reason to think so. If you allow Creation and history to guide you for a moment, God’s will for you appears to be for you live in harmony with your intact family. Now, however, you are a pilgrim and pilgrims are persons in motion. Like Jesus and me before you, you are forced on a journey that will become your story. And from your story will come your theology. Ask yourself, where can a lovingly reliable and consistent God be found in your story? Ask yourself, how does this God help me carry my pain?

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Paul Knowlton

Writer, speaker, and thought leader Paul E. Knowlton is a former foster youth turned lawyer. In 2004, as the author of The Original Foster Care Survival Guide, he introduced and has since advocated for a better way to prepare foster and former foster youth for successful adulthoods, which includes mentoring, self-assessment, modeling wisdom and spirituality, and teaching critical thinking and leadership. Paul’s formal education includes degrees in engineering, law, and theology. He can be contacted through his website.


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