Monday, July 29, 2013

Fear and Punishment: The Glory of God in Foster Care

Any foster parent (or anyone who regularly deals with mistreated and abused children) can attest to how often interactions with these children can remind us of the abuses they have been exposed to in their short lives. Over the weekend, I had one of those moments, which was heartbreaking, soul-crushing, convicting, and in the end still brought me hope.

Little Miss (our three year old foster daughter) was being a little monster. If you have tried to consistently discipline and instruct a child this age, you know that even on the best of days there are struggles. However, this was not the best of days. She was absolutely terrible and defiant. After getting a timeout (for doing what, I really can't recall at the moment, because all the timeouts of the weekend seem to blend together),she screamed for almost half an hour in our home's designated "time-out area" (in the hallway with all the doors shut and the baby gate up). Timeout is only supposed to be three minutes, but for the timer to start and run, you have to stand facing the wall without screaming. She was screaming, jumping around, and rolling on the ground.

About 20 minutes in I resigned myself to a long fight, so I got up and changed from my blue jeans and polo into a shirt and khaki shorts. When I came back into the living room, I noticed I had forgot to put on my belt and my shorts were loose. So I went back to the bedroom and grabbed my belt and walked back into the living room. I stopped and talked to my wife, who was editing pictures on the computer. I joked with her for a minute and popped my belt a couple of times, making the distinct sound of the leather snapping together.

Across the room, Little Miss screamed, "Don't hit me with the belt!" and ran as far as she could away from me down the hallway. I was shocked. I hadn't looked at her, touched her, or even acknowledged her presence in the last ten minutes. My heart completely sank and any frustration I had with her over her recent defiance and disrespect immediately washed away. For all of the bad things she had been, in this moment she was a scared little girl, terrified that she was going to be beaten.

Mustering as much control as I could over my emotions (I wanted to start crying, to be honest) I put my belt on, then walked over the baby gate and took her in my arms, looked her in the eyes and said, "I promise I will never hit you or hurt with you with anything. I will never whip you with a belt. Ever. I love you." I then kissed her forehead and put her back in timeout. She is barely three and yet already has enough horrible life experience to equate the popping of a belt with violence, fear, and pain. 

I'm not here to say I'm staunchly pro- or anti-corporal punishment, but being a foster parent I am not allowed by law to use physical punishment with children in my care. But at some point in this baby's life, she has been angrily and violently dealt with, to the point that she in that moment was afraid of me, someone who has never physically hurt her a day in her life. 

"So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:16-19 ESV 

Why am I a foster father? To show children who may have never truly been loved in their lives the love of God the Father, a love that knows no limits or bounds for His children. A love that is eternal, from the very foundations of the world. A love that was most truly manifested in the dying Savior Jesus Christ, bleeding on the cross of Calvary. Jesus Christ, who is the great King and the Ancient of Days, was humiliated like no other, all for the great love with which God loved us. A love that gives us confidence on the day of judgment that we will not be forced to stand on our own works and righteousness, but that of Christ.

So the fear that I heard in her voice and saw in her face is similar to the fear that we see referenced in verse 18 above, which is a fear of punishment. I want her to see the love of the Lord, which is a love of discipline for her own good, born out of a desire to glorify God and to lead her in that path, not a desire to lash out over a bruised ego in anger. Lord Jesus, by Your Holy Spirit fill me anew with the strength to demonstrate the fruit of Your Spirit to Your Glory.

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