When my wife and I first started foster parenting our first foster baby, our focus was on raising and nurturing this baby in need. We divulged our time, energy, attention and affection into the child. We educated ourselves about what the child needed. We paid close attention to his special needs. We worked hard at getting the services he needed to aide his growth and development. We took him to every appointment. We ran to him when he cried. We laughed when he laughed. It was about being parents to a baby in need of loving parents. What we were doing and why we were doing it was clear to us. As parents, loving the child was our purpose. But what happens when the purpose changes – when we’re no longer called to be his parents? That’s the hard part.
Somewhere in our journey as foster parents, the game changed for us so-to-speak, as reunification became more tangible. At once we thought our calling was purely to the child, which it was at first. But a new purpose became apparent which was not only to the child but to his family. Our calling went from giving grace to the child to being agents of grace to building the child’s family, even if that family would not be us. To love a child not our own as our own meant loving him back into his family. Even though reunification was in the back of our minds, in the thick of parenting our practical focus was purely on the child. Then suddenly a new purpose dawns gradually over the horizon of foster parenting, requiring us to re-shift our focus to aiding the making of a family.
Is this the case in life? You set out on a journey with one clear purpose in mind and you pour everything you have into it but somewhere along the way a new purpose as noble as the first emerges, beckoning your equal embrace. The hardest part I think is being in that in-between space where you are shifting purposes wholeheartedly. And you know you have to because if you stay stubbornly committed to the first purpose solely would undermine the new purpose.
I find that an art in living is having the honesty to recognize when the purpose in a journey has changed and having the sacrificial courage to embrace the new, apparent purpose without thinking that you’ve betrayed the first. Times change, as they say. Purposes can too. The purposeful change is mental. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It’s practical. It’s relational. It’s an awakening, and sometimes a rude one, that makes you wonder, “What happened? What am I here for?” While the second purpose is as noble and worthy as the first, the change is nonetheless difficult, sometimes excruciatingly so. It’s difficult because you were so committed to the first purpose. It’s difficult because while you don’t regret pouring into the first purpose and continue to believe in its worthiness, it still feels like you’re abandoning something dear to you – even a part of you. It’s difficult because while you cognitively knew reunification was the goal and a possibility you still devotedly received this child as your very own and shifting in that devotion feels like a surrendering an essential part of you. It’s difficult because the changing of purposes sometimes hurts. But perhaps the change from one purpose to another is part of the art of living a good life marked by wisdom and grace, and you know somewhere in the recesses of your conscience that to not make that change would result in the detrimental betrayal of both purposes.