The Bible is filled with stories to which we can relate. Stories of adoption are found throughout the Bible. In 1 Samuel 1-2, we see the account of a woman named Hannah. She had desperately wanted a child but had been unable to conceive. Year after year, she and her husband would travel to worship and make a sacrifice to the Lord, as was the custom in the Old Testament.
Every year, she was reminded that she did not have a child of her own. It was in her desperation that she cried out to the Lord and made a vow, saying, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” The Bible says that “the Lord remembered her.”
In time, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Samuel. Hannah remembered the promise that she had made to the Lord. And she eventually gave him back to the Lord and took the young child to live in the temple, where Eli, the high priest, raised him.
Samuel's Story and the Heart of a Parent
First, let’s look at the parallel between Samuel’s mother, Hannah, and the birth parents that are part of today’s foster care and adoption stories. Whatever the means by which the child came into the foster care system, there is a face and a name to their birth parents. Hannah was a mother who had real emotions and connections, just like the birth parents that we partner with on this journey.
There must have been nights that Hannah longed to have Samuel back in her home. I wonder if other moms might have snubbed their noses at her. She must have heard words of shame as people tried to figure out how a mother could do this to her child. With that in mind, imagine what it must feel like when a birth parent has their child removed. What do they experience when law enforcement or a social worker removes their child from the home or school? Imagine feeling lonely and embarrassed while sitting in a courtroom listening to others discussing their life decisions or parenting challenges. While it’s true that their child has been removed from their care, there is still a genuine relationship between them and their child. A heart of compassion and understanding is so important as we interact with birth parents.
Foster parents have a unique opportunity to extend a connection to a birth family as they interact during visitations, court dates, doctor visits and more.
As we look at 1 Samuel 2:19-20, we can see that Samuel’s “mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife…” Eli and Samuel’s relationship could be examined through the lens of foster care, adoption or even kinship care.
There are children in foster care who are placed in the home of a relative, a teacher, one of their coaches, a close family friend, or even their pastor’s home. Eli had been raising Samuel in the temple year after year. However, on their annual visit, the birth parents would present Samuel with a new robe that Hannah had made. Then, Eli would bless the parents.
I can imagine Hannah’s anticipation as she made the robe each year, knowing she would see Samuel and present him with the gift. Then, I think about Samuel’s excitement, knowing their visit was approaching. All the while, Eli allowed space for a positive relationship between Samuel, Hannah, and Elkanah. So too, as foster parents, give place to birth parents participating in their visits with their children.
God's Not Done Yet
Continuing in the story, we come to 1 Samuel 2:22. We see in this verse that Eli is “very old” while Samuel is still a young boy (1 Samuel 3:1). What is so fascinating about Eli is that we do not hear of him balking at having to raise Samuel. We do not hear Eli complain that he has already raised his children and does not want to raise another one. Instead, we see a man who is past his prime in raising children but knows what God is calling him to do and knows the call of God on Samuel’s life, as well.
Eli and Samuel
Because he was a person just like you and me, it is easy to imagine that Eli felt his age when Samuel was running circles around him. But God was not done with Eli. If he had not been willing, things might have turned out much differently for Samuel, who eventually became a prophet that anointed and counseled Israel’s kings. Even in 1 Samuel 3, we can see a beautiful depiction of Eli, whose eyes had become weak, having patience as Samuel woke him up three times in the night because Samuel thought Eli had called him. Neither his age nor his failing eyesight stopped Eli from taking the time to teach the young boy how to recognize the voice of the Lord. This gift was a sensitivity and skill Samuel would need throughout his lifetime.
Everyone Can Do Something
While God doesn’t call everyone to foster or adopt a child, everyone can do something. Age does not have to be a factor in considering whether or not you will be involved in the life of a child in foster care or wrapping around a foster, adoptive or birth family. You can still make a difference, in some way, in the lives of these families at any age.
The Best Response
You may be a foster parent who is just beginning or a seasoned foster or adoptive parent who has been through some of this journey’s long and winding roads. You may have raised your biological children and are unsure if you can still serve in this space or even how to serve. Wherever you are, the story of Hannah and Samuel has a place for you.
It might be the work you are putting in to build a relationship with the birth parents. It might be the challenges that come with age. Or, if you are like me, it might be the uncertainty of what the future holds for your family or the child in your home.
Take a moment to look at the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, remembering that each character in this story was a person just like you and me. They faced unique inner struggles. However, their response, their obedience to God, made a difference in the life of a young boy named Samuel.