As I set the little three-year-old boy down, he burst into tears and reached up, begging me to pick him up again. I had already held him for a good thirty minutes and my arms hurt, but his tears compelled me to scoop him back into my arms. The dear child clung to me tightly and his sobs melted away into a peaceful silence as his head rested on my shoulder. I was a complete stranger, but he was so desperate for love he didn’t want to let go of anyone willing to hold him.

My heart broke.

I wasn’t angry at the caretakers; they were doing the best they could. There were simply too many children. They had their hands full trying to keep the kids fed, safe, and lice-free—spending time with them one-on-one wasn’t an option. Honestly, I didn’t know how they ran an orphanage with such a shortage of staff.

But I was still upset. Not necessarily because these orphans were deprived of individual attention (which was sad) or because the children were poor.

I was angry because these children had been forgotten. 

Here before my eyes were children living without love while Christians did very little about it.

Why?

Why don’t we do anything? Part of the reason is that we don’t realize what’s going on in other areas of the world. Part of it is that we’re so busy with our own lives that we forget about kids like these. But one of the biggest reasons we don’t get involved is that we want to protect ourselves. We don’t want to know too much because we’re afraid of becoming sad or depressed. We don’t want to care too much, because we’re scared of experiencing pain. The sad truth is, we’re more interested in preventing our own pain than in relieving theirs.

I know this because a part of me was scared as I held that little boy. I didn’t want the pain of leaving children I’d come to love at an institution. I wanted to adopt them and take them home, give them food, a big grass yard to play in, and a warm bed. I wanted to love on my terms—I wanted to love them forever—not on orphanage terms, which meant leaving them behind at the institution.

Caring can be tough.

Sad.

Depressing.

Emotionally draining.

C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Essentially, to love is to risk being hurt.

In his book, Orphan Justice, Jason Carr shares “It’s inconvenient. It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s exhausting. I guarantee it. But all too often, selfishness keeps us from taking care of these children. Somewhere along the way, in our concern for an easy, happy, comfortable life, we may be missing the heart of the gospel—to seek and save the lost, to reach out to the forgotten and the oppressed, to love sacrificially, and to pour our lives out so that others can catch a glimpse of Jesus.”

If Jesus came to earth and all he was concerned about was himself and what was best for his emotions and physical health, do you think he would have died on the cross?

Doubtful.

But he DID put himself through difficulty and die on the cross for our sake. It was hard. It was painful. But he did it for US. And what does Christ call us to do? He says we are to love our neighbor—orphans, foster children, trafficked children, HIV children—as ourselves and that we are to pick up our cross and follow him. And there’s no disclaimer…it doesn’t say “Follow Christ on your terms or as long as it’s comfortable.”

The Next Step: Moving Past Good Intentions 

We all think following Christ and loving our neighbor as ourselves is great. We think volunteering is great. We think sacrifice is great. We think such-and-such an organization is great.  But that’s all we do: think and talk. Essentially we’re saying it’s great for other people to do. We are so busy applauding the works of others that we never get our own hands dirty—figuratively speaking. We assume most people are doing something, but “most people” are just like us: doing nothing but talking. Intentions are only good if they lead to action.