Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
~ James 1:27
Thirty little words that make all the difference.
In my Bible (which I have had since 2001) I put a star next to this verse Nov. thirty 2003, and then made a note Jan 24 2006 by the word orphan ("12,000 in Africa from AIDS"). But when we got married in 2009 and ever since this verse has grown and grown in importance to really become the direction and daily choices in our life. Orphans have always been on my heart - even when I was a child. And when I was 15 a burden for widows entered my heart. For whatever reason God has not let me escape these burdens and calls on my heart even at times when I have wanted to very much. Like tonight.
It's New Year's Eve - and of the 4 we have had since being married only one has been spent out with friends and family. And tonight I will be home again (boo hoo) most of the night "alone" as Joshua has to work. And the reason I can't go out is because I have chosen to look after widows. It was my choice - it was my calling. And I hate that my selfish little heart at times does this grudgingly. And I hate that I feel sorry for myself when my friends are out on the town, or spending the evening with their kids, or doing whatever they want. I am ashamed at my attitude - when in reality this is such a gift and such a blessing to me. As we look toward caring for orphans (which at times feels so much more ... "fun" - oh how little I know) God has really been working on my heart showing me that caring for widows, and those who need our help and our company is such an important part of being who he wants us to be. He has been showing me that even as this path is so different than most newlyweds - it is FILLED with blessings. Filled to overflowing. He is showing me that even though we thought we would be caring for orphans directly by now - we are fulfilling His great calling on our lives right now.
Being given to God for His work should be what each of us does as Christians - this is true "religion". This life is NOT meant to just live for whatever makes us happy in the moment. The verse says to "visit" orphans and widows in their distress. I never really looked at it as I am now - but the verse doesn't say we should scoop them out of the distress, or even that we should take care of all their needs, or fix all their problems. I think one reason my heart has had a hard time really doing what I am called to with wholeness has been that I was trying to shield myself from the distress. To visit someone in their distress means it is going to probably be distressing for you too. It's not gonna be easy - it's gonna hurt like crazy at times. To visit someone in their distress means that we have to have open eyes to the pain they are feeling - and that will bring pain on us. It means sometimes that we sit and cry with them because of the distress in their hearts. It means giving extra hugs when there are no words to say that can comfort someone who has watched a spouse, or parents or loved ones die. It means not pushing away the parts that are uncomfortable. It means being 100% with that person.
Caring for orphans is quite glamorized in our culture - movie stars adopting and volunteering to work in orphanages. Youth groups building schools for orphans. ... And I am overjoyed that more and more of God's people are seeing the need for orphan care. But what about the other part of this verse - what about the widows, what about the elderly grandma who can't take care of her home, what about the war hero who can't mow his lawn anymore, what about that neighbor who can't go out to get groceries? What about the mentally handicapped guy who sits at the senior center just wanting someone to talk to? Where are the Christians then? I have heard a certain sentence more times than I can count: "Bless you for doing elder care .. I could never do that". Really? We can't just pick the parts of God's commands that work for us. While not everyone may be in a place where doing this full time is possible - every one of us should do something. Even if it's visiting the nursing home once a month to sing hymns. Even if it's writing to an elderly relative. Even if it's loving that grumpy old man who never says a positive word. We need to take it all or we bring shame on His great Name. We need to enter in and be part of the lives of those who need us. We are CALLED to do this as children of God.
And yet - more times than I can count my heart wants to escape the things in life that are not always fun. So, I leave this past year in somber remembrance of His grace to me. His grace in keeping me here while I kicked and screamed. His grace in allowing me to learn. His grace in showing me what real religion is all about. His grace in giving me a new year in which to do better.