Reading the bible, believing it as truth and doing what it says has radically shaped my life.
There is one verse in particular that has helped to reshape my value system and inspired me to live generously here on this earth. James 1:27 says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
What I see and hear when I read this portion of scripture is the word compassion. Compassion is a word that literally means "with suffering." When one human being has compassion on another human being, he or she is willing to identify his or her self with the plight of another person. In essence, the compassionate individual is willing to carry the burden or suffering of someone else.
Read James 1:27 again with this new definition of compassion swirling around in your heart and mind. Someone who is actively pursuing God is a person who is willing to act compassionately (to show mercy) to his fellow man. There are two significant people groups identified by this verse: orphans and widows. The definition of an orphan is a person or thing that is without protective affiliation. The definition of a widow is a woman left alone (most often used to describe a woman who has lost her husband or life-partner due to death or even what dictionary.com describes as a hobby - like a golf widow...meaning the husband or significant other spends all of his time working on his hobby and not working on his relationships).
It is this very biblical principle that inspired my wife and I to adopt a child into our family. And it is this same biblical principle that is inviting me to reshape my thoughts around compassion and widows. The question I have been asking myself as of late is this: Are single moms a part of the biblical example of widows in our society today?
I've been a youth pastor for 10 years and have been invited to shepherd many youth from a variety of different backgrounds over this period of time. I have learned many things, and I've also discovered that I still have much to learn when it comes to caring for people and helping to disciple them in the way of Jesus Christ. One trend that has become something we cannot ignore any longer, is that the erosion of the biblical definition of the family is accelerating at an alarming rate. When I first entered into youth ministry, the number of youth who came from a broken home situation was significantly lower than what statistics tell us what is true of our society today. More and more children are growing up in a complex family situation (divorce, blended family, single parent, same-sex parents, etc.). There are a variety of causes for these living circumstances, but no matter what the cause of the situation, the end result is the same...distress of some kind.
As humans we love to try and identify a reason or root cause for the issue that we are observing. When it comes to youth growing up in a complex family situation, we at times try to use rationality to explain away the issue. We may make statements like, "their parents are messed up" or "his mom had a wild past in her younger days" in an attempt to categorize our observation. While these statements may or may not be true, when we allow rationality to consume our thought process and inform our activity, we lose sight of the ability we as humans have to act compassionately. Compassion invites us to think beyond the circumstance and to see the person as a person...someone who is worthy of love, respect, joy and hope. I sometimes wonder if being polluted by the world actually means losing our ability to see one another compassionately?
If we truly desire to disciple others in the way of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to view others in a compassionate light. What is true of our world today is that there are many orphans and widows in distress. Be it a single parent, an orphaned child or and elderly person who has lost their soul mate...the opportunities for us to respond with compassion are limitless. May God's truth inspire you to begin or continue to act compassionately each day.