As a case manager working with at-risk children and youth, I spend a great deal of time with children who are in foster care, many with no connections to their family, much less their parents. Often, they live in group homes which struggle to care for 10-15 children and get lost in the "system" moving from one group home to the next. Many of these children age out of the system, turning 18 without having the opportunity to live "normal" lives in the safety and security of an adoptive home. They have entered a new life, but it feels much like their old life. Many children in this situation are asking "what is new life?"
My son, D'Shawn, tasted this kind of experience. At the age of 10, he had been in 11 foster placements, including group homes and a specialized foster home. He had been in foster care because of drug issues and poverty in his home and had no contact with anyone in his family. On his adoption date, June 15 2010, D'Shawn experienced a newness in his life. There weren't going to be any other placements. There weren't going to be any more court hearings - he was in a loving home. Although we struggled from time to time to help him heal from his past, through it all we held on to the newness of our family.
What is New Life?
In Paul's letter to the Romans, he talks of finding newness of life. We are transformed into a new creation.
"What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."
Our walk, the here and now, is the beginning of our lives transformed by God's love. We are made aware of our need for reconciliation through God's prevenient grace: the love that exists throughout our world - wherever and whenever God's goodness exists.
Our lives are made new because we now walk as children of Christ - as a new creature. The way that we think, speak, feel and act is changed, geared towards a relationship with Christ, uniting creation with its creator.
The life we have is not just a mundane life, but a life full of grace. This is affirmed by Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of John: "I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)
In our Methodist tradition, we refer to this newness of life as justifying grace. Just as my adoptive son was transformed to a new life through his adoption, we are also transformed to a new life by accepting God's love made a reality through the work of Jesus Christ.
An example: In a former role, I worked with adults who were chronically homeless. We helped them with a process to find and enter stable housing. The day we gave them keys to their new apartment was a day to celebrate a new life that they had in front of them - a life where they are safe, secure, and loved.
Sanctifying Grace - Evidence of a new life
The new life that we take on is shown through sanctifying grace, where we mature in our lives as Christians, seeking ways to become anew - to accept God's salvation and change our lives, reconnecting with our creator. We seek ways to love God and love our neighbor. Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we become closer to God and experience a deeper relationship with others.
When I accepted God's salvation at the age of 13, my life was made anew in an instant. As I have matured, God continues to work through me through His sanctifying grace so that, with God's help, my life is transformed towards a life of perfection in love. My thoughts and words are a visible foretaste of heaven here on earth, pointing others to the cross of Christ and the Good News of God's salvation.
I believe that this newness of life is always changing. God, I believe, is always doing something new, to call us to new spaces where we are able to be Christ's examples of mercy to a broken world. God is showing us ways where we can grow in our faith and our spiritual gifts which in turn seek to transform our world - a world in need of God's sustaining grace.
Rev. Joshua Warner serves as minister of pastoral care at Faith United Methodist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Joshua holds a Master's of Divinity degree in pastoral care from United Theological Seminary and Master's in adult education from Colorado State University. In addition to serving the local church, Joshua works in the public behavioral health community as Children's High-Needs Case Manager working with at-risk youth and their families.
[Posted March 5, 2019]