IN their distress

As I was reading this week in the book of James, I read a familiar passage that I often think about and also share with others. But, for whatever reason, three distinct words jumped out at me as a read them.

… in their distress …

To give a little bit of the context, James discusses much about trials, persevering, listening and doing the Word, actions, taming the tongue, and so much more. But, right there at the end of chapter 1, there is a verse (27) that is well known to many, especially those who have foster or adoptive children.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Did you catch that? We look after and care for the widows and the orphans in their distress. 

As I often do, I turned to my trusty 1828 Webster’s Dictionary to look up the meaning of the word “distress.”

Extreme pain; anguish of body or mind; as, to suffer great distress from the gout, or from the loss of near friends.

Affliction; calamity; misery.

As I perused the various forms of distress (distressed, distressing, etc.), several words were often repeated in the definitions: suffering, anguish, misery/miserable and affliction. Ultimately, the word used over and over and over again throughout the definitions was the word PAIN.

Look after the orphans and the widows in their distress … in their PAIN.

When I know someone is in pain – physically, emotionally, mentally or otherwise – I respond differently. I am more sensitive. I am more compassionate. I am more patient.

I got to thinking about this, specifically with our foster and adoptive children in mind. Our children from hard places sometimes have the ugliest behaviors of all. They express much of their pain through their words and their actions.

Reading this verse in James that was written almost 2,000 years ago, I was greatly encouraged. Not because looking after and caring for orphans is easy, but because it’s so clear that we are to do it in their distress and pain. It’s messy. It’s hurtful. It’s wounding. We don’t care for them when all is rosey and healed. No, we do so when they are at their greatest need and in their greatest pain. IN their distress. Smack dab in the middle of it.

I loved being reminded of this as our new foster placement (she’s 7 yrs old) isn’t always the easiest. She’s incredibly fun and sweet and wants so desperately to be loved, but she’s also very guarded and hurt and scared.

Now. Now is the time we care for her. Not when it’s easy, clean and a walk-in-the-park, but when it’s hard, messy and a huge mountain to climb. There will be many tears, grunts, groans, yelling, pain, agony, misery, tantrums, questions, and battles to face.

The pain is real.

But, it is in those precious moments of catching her eye and smiling at her with the love that wells up within me for her, that I see hope settle near. Her shoulders relax, she makes eye contact, she smiles shyly and draws closer for a hug, seeking assurance of our love for her.

In her pain, she is loved.

All children long to be loved. Some just don’t always know how to receive it very well; some fight tooth and nail so they won’t be hurt yet again; some are so broken they don’t believe anyone would ever want them. But, all children long and desire to be loved.

This is what we do.

In their distress, we care for them.

In their distress, we look after them.

In their distress, we comfort them and keep them safe.

In their distress, we love them.

If you find yourself looking after and caring for the widows and orphans around you, take heart! The good and hard, “pure and faultless” work that you are doing is pleasing and acceptable to God our Father.

To Him be all the Glory!!

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