Monday, July 04, 2016

Forgiveness: It's a struggle

I've been having a hard time with forgiveness lately. I'm sorry, did I say lately? It's been a problem for years. More than a decade, even.

Fourteen-and-a-half years ago, my wife and I opened our home to a foster child. At the age when our own daughter could climb stairs, feed herself, draw pictures with crayons or pencils, and communicate her thoughts with laughter, tears and words; Isaac could barely stand, much less walk. His vocabulary consisted of wordless but excited moaning, and he had no idea how to play. (He could sit still for TV, though. His parents taught him to do that extremely well.)

We didn't do this alone, though. I was from Pittsburgh and my wife was from Tuscon, Ariz., but we did have the support of our church, a community of believers we had been a part of since we came to the area. As one they stood before God and swore an oath to support us as we took this child into our hearts, and to support not just us, but also another couple who were offering their home to his sister.

Isaac's problems were worse than we initially realized, but for those first few months things went gloriously. One of the women in our church was a licensed social worker, and at the beginning she and her husband handled arrangements for supervised visits. They gave us support in other ways too, as she gave us perspective, explained state regulations and even offered advice on how to engage a 2-year-old who was used to being ignored.

Isaac's mother had started coming to our church several weeks before the state removed the children from her custody, and Carla had difficulty understanding boundaries; so other friends ran interference for us. And everyone expressed great enthusiasm for what we were doing. If shouldering the burden of caring for someone else's abused child is Paradise, then that winter was Eden.

The serpent had arrived in Eden by springtime. The pastor our church had hired a year previously was showing his colors, as he used his pulpit to manipulate, to bully and to control. As quickly as he had drawn new congregants in his first several months, he was now driving people away, and as they went, our support network unraveled.

The social worker and her husband disappeared from the scene first. Then other people began to realize that they were overextended, and they began to pull back as well. We couldn't. There was a child depending on us.

I want to say I don't blame these people, but I do. I hear from time to time how this person or that one is facing trouble and needs prayer, and I walk away. I see how others are respected in the churches they have moved to, and all I can feel is disgusted. The betrayal hurt that much.

My wife bore the worst of it. In addition to the extra attention Isaac needed, we had to care for our own daughter and there was a second child on the way. Harder still, I had started a job that spring that demanded more than 50 hours a week, including almost all day Monday and Tuesday. I could get relief by going off and working in the garden, but for my wife, Eden became a cage with iron bars.

She tried to get help. She called people from the church and asked them to watch our daughter for an hour or two just so she could attend a medical appointment. They told her no.

Time went on, and soon it became evident that Isaac was returning to his birth parents. We watched as the progress he had made in our home was torn up by the roots and thrown out. If our church was grieving with us, we couldn't tell. By midsummer, the church had all but fallen apart, and the people who had sworn to be with us were nowhere to be seen.

Isaac had come into our lives with a great deal of fanfare, but when it came time for him to depart we were almost completely alone. When I came home from work at two in the morning and found my daughter sitting at the stop of the stairs crying because her brother wasn't around, I was there to comfort her.

When the quiet and the grief overwhelmed with a depth too profound for words, the community I had believed would be with me, was gone.

So I say this to my old church: You screwed up, big time.

These people had sworn before God that they would be there for us throughout the entire time we fostered. They sang our praises, and told us how our faith inspired theirs. When we lost Isaac, they were nowhere to be found. We didn't even get a lousy sympathy card. One person when I saw her barely a month later actually told me to get over it.

Those last two really hurt. Fifteen years later, and forgiveness is still a struggle.

Copyright 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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Anonymous said...


I was a favorite newcomer in a church in the state where we lived right after our marriage. I was invited to preach and to take the lead in prayer times after Sunday services.

Fast-forward to the period of time wherein we decided to leave that church for various reasons. Yes, there were some troubling issues, but the leaving was passive if not positive.

I wound up literally on my deathbed, having nearly died from an infected, then burst, appendix - and then having nearly died in surgery.

My wife, pregnant with our first child and nearly a thousand miles from our home state and extended families, called the pastor of our last church. Would you all please pray? We could really use the support of brethren in Jesus.

No reply. No calls, no visits, no cards, no praying over the phone - no anything.

Over 15 years later, I can still remember the hopeless/helpless look in my wife's eyes when she realized we had been abandoned because we had "broken ranks" and showed (yet another) shallow, selfish clique that it was "church" in name only, if even that.

Just today I had to make up my mind to simply let certain people in my life think, feel and act however they want - I had to emotionally walk away and realize that no matter how wrong their attitudes are, they are never going to change and give me what I feel I needed from them - so I have to release them and stop expecting what they are not capable of.

No, David - it's not just that your "church" family failed to do or say whatever - it's that they truly were not capable of any sort of "care" for anyone who wasn't helping them keep up their charade.

I'm sorry you and the family and Isaac had to experience that.

David Learn said...

It's what it is. I've long since accepted that there will be no apologies, repentance or attempts to make things right, nor even an attempt to understand what they did. Certainly I can do nothing about that.

The question I'm wrestling with is what it means to forgive in that situation. "Letting go" is one answer that we usually suggest to others, but I have found that letting go is usually a pretense made possible through avoidance and in any event is not a christocentric response to being wronged.

And that's a preview for what's coming next.