November is National Adoption Month. Each year, we set aside this month to celebrate adoption in our churches and communities with all manner of meetings, special gatherings and public acknowledgments. The airwaves are full of commercials touting the gift of adoption and the positive place that adoption has in the lives of so many children and families.
During this month of emphasis, we are intentional with presenting story after heartwarming story of how God has built families through adoption. The beauty of adoption is on full display, and that is an overwhelmingly a good thing. But I believe that National Adoption Month is also a perfect time to pause and acknowledge that the beauty of adoption does not come without a price. Moreover, National Adoption Month represents an opportunity for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to put the fruit of the gospel on display to post-adoptive families in some needed ways.
Those of us whose families God has grown through adoption know that while our story is good, we did not become a family without brokenness and difficulty. Oftentimes, at points of emphasis like National Adoption Month, we in the Christian adoption community can have an annoying tendency to gloss over the difficult and sad parts of our journey for fear of ruining the good. A Christ-centered perspective reminds us that we cannot because our story ultimately isn’t about us at all.
In so many ways, adoption is a mixed bag. God has given us children that we love more than we can ever really express. Our kids love us as their parents, and they love their siblings (although it doesn’t always look like it). We are all thankful for God’s providential hand in bringing us together, but we have also learned as a family that significant days and meaningful celebrations are defined in part by the people who are not there and the questions that don’t always have answers. Milestone birthdays are joyous, but they are also tinged with thoughts of unknown birth parents or siblings and a sense of loss from something that we never truly had. Graduations and achievements are always tempered by a little sadness or drama that we can’t quite put our fingers on but that have come to expect. Most adoptive families know exactly what I mean.
In short, adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard, and both aspects can be embraced without fear or anxiety. As Christians, we can accept truths in tension in large part because of the gospel. As we think about God’s adoption of us through Christ’s work, the gospel is a story that is filled with both great glory and real grief. God provided for our redemption and demonstrated Jesus’ sovereignty over life and death, but our redemption cost Jesus his life. For our part, our response to the gospel is marked by our turning to Christ for the gift of salvation, but it also is the story of how our sinful brokenness and rebellion against God created a debt that only Jesus could pay.
Although I am not trying to stretch the analogy to exactly equate earthly adoptions with our adoptions into the family of God, I do think that their parallels are noteworthy as we think about how we celebrate adoption. The gospel is the ultimate good news, but it is also good news mixed with brokenness because of how far we had strayed and how much we were in need of rescue.
How the church can approach adoption
In light of these observations, here are a few thoughts as to how we in the church approach National Adoption Month:
1. Celebrate adoption. Just because adoption is difficult or complex, don’t stop celebrating and championing it. Adoption is not the only answer to fulfilling James 1:27, but it is the exact right answer for some vulnerable children. Adoption isn’t a fairy tale. In the church, we need to be intentional about celebrating adoption and championing adoptive families in healthy ways in order to send a clear message that adoption does not have to be perfect to be something that we affirm and praise the Lord for. As local churches, we celebrate what we value, and Jesus is who we value most. When we appropriately acknowledge adoption in the culture of our churches, we are celebrating the grace and mercy of God on display in his people.
2. Allow for grief and sadness in adoption. Just because adoption is good doesn’t mean that it is always all good. Give people in your family and your church the grace to experience the full range of the emotions around their adoption. There is no one right way to feel or experience the layers of emotion around the broken relationships and sad stories that are part of adoption. When we don’t know what to do, we can always feel free to give the gift of presence to our family and friends touched by adoption without having to feel the pressure of providing solutions.
I have stopped counting the times that people felt like they needed to say something positive about our family and have told me how grateful that our kids should be to be adopted. Some days, they quite frankly aren’t all that grateful. Yet, I understand that my kids don’t really need to be grateful for death, abandonment, neglect, abuse, or anything else that may have contributed to them being adoptable. The ministry of presence is key when we are face to face with the ongoing pain that brought many families to adoption. Just sitting with our hurting friends in their grief can be more powerful than any words we have.
3. Allow adoptees and adoptive families to not be OK. Sadly, one of the most difficult things that I have experienced in the last 18+ years in the Christian adoption community is how many hurting adoptive families and adoptees feel like they have to put on a front and hide their pain in the church. It’s as if we feel being transparent about our pain and difficulties will give the enemy a victory when, in reality, Satan is reveling in those families that are too ashamed to let people in their local church into their suffering.
Through adoption, we have encountered pain and brokenness that has at times been too much to bear. Without the prayers and the tangible support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t know how we would have survived. Perhaps the greatest testimony that adoption has given us is an unshakable confidence in the enduring presence of God through it all. One way to celebrate adoption is to ensure that our churches are a safe place for adoptees and adoptive families to find community and support that mirrors the ever-faithful love of God in their lives.
4. Provide resources. Years ago, one of the leading family ministries in the United States did a survey of Christian adoptive families, and what they found was striking. They discovered that the top place Christian families want to go for help and resources is their church, but the church is actually one of the last places they turn to for help. This should not be. As Christ’s ambassadors we must do better.
Lifeline and other ministries like ours exist to come alongside local churches and equip and empower them to care for vulnerable children and families in Jesus’ name. When the church becomes among the safest and the best prepared places to care for the uniqueness brought by adoptive families, we become a living picture of the grace of God to a world that is dying to know and follow Jesus.
This article was written by Rick Morton, vice president of Engagement for Lifeline Children’s Services. It was published on erlc.com.