adoption is too hard (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote about some of the common physical barriers to adoption. Today I’d like to write about common emotional and spiritual barriers families face.

When we first began to pursue adoption, resistance from the Christian community was the very last thing I expected. Every Christian has been adopted by God, so our obedience to this pattern of love seemed like an obvious default. Also, Scripture is quite clear that we are supposed to care for widows and orphans.

A few months into our process, however, I was baffled to hear Christian leaders voicing strong warnings. And I was even more disturbed to learn that there are Christian groups who target parents considering adoption and try to discourage them from it. Those murmurings were confirmed the night I spent an hour on the phone, listening to an older spiritual leader trying to help me understand how dangerous adoption could be.

My husband is a pastor, and occasionally we will encounter quirky criticisms wrapped in theological-sounding packages. So, I was able to hang up the phone and think, “Wow. That poor guy just doesn't get it.” However, I can’t imagine how intimidating this sort of conversation would have been to a young Christian, or to someone who is easily discouraged from a challenge. That's why I'm writing this post today. If you've faced these criticisms while considering adoption, I want you to know you aren't alone. And I'd like to walk through the discouragement and harshness of this resistance with you.

This note will be split into two parts. First, I’d like to address some potentially-legitimate concerns that are being discussed in the Christian community. These are questions that a family might want to consider before pursuing an adoption. Secondly, I'd like to address some unhealthy teaching about adoption that I have encountered as we have pursued our son.

If you have already adopted, you may recognize some of the questions I list in the first section from your home study. A ‘home study’ is a long and involved process that is required for domestic and international adoption. During this study, the family dynamic is evaluated extensively to explore whether the adoptive dynamic will be a good fit. Home study-type questions can be used for healthy evaluation, exposing problem areas before a needy child enters the scene. They can also be used poorly, to intimidate and discourage unnecessarily.

When you are in the middle of an emotionally-challenging process like adoption, it can be really hard to tell if advice is good or bad. Most parents are scared and overwhelmed, and they don't want to make a life-long mistake. So, what should parents do with their doubts and the solutions they are offered for them?

As we have moved through our adoption, one helpful method of discerning the difference between helpful and unhelpful adoption advice has been listening for the tone in which questions are presented. It’s one thing for a friend, pastor, or social worker to lovingly bring potential issues to the light so that families can explore them prayerfully and responsibly. It is another thing if someone speaks to you in hushed, negative tones with feigned authority. Do they make you feel ashamed or foolish? Are you picking up an underlying tone of suspicion and fear? If so, the speaker’s motive might be persuasion instead of truth.

Listed below are a few common questions that might arise in your home study. It would be wise to think and pray through them. But you don’t have to feel shame or fear as you sort through them. Just be honest in prayer with each one, and God will move your heart and show you what to do.


1. Is the parent entering adoption as a consumer or as a giver? Is the parent attempting to ‘buy/use’ a child like a ‘product’ to fulfill some sort of selfish desire?

2. Is the adoption ‘plan-B’ for a couple who would really prefer a biological child? Will the parents be carrying deep disappointment into the adoption?

3. Is the parent pursuing a ‘prestige-centered’ or a flesh-centered ideal? Is he/she trying to gain public admiration by doing something expensive or difficult?

4. Is the parent pursuing adoption lightly, trying to do a ‘good deed,’ but without thinking through potential consequences?

5. How might birth order, gender, and temperament of existing children affect an adoption?

6. Have the parents thought through risks that adoptive children might bring into the family dynamic? (personality differences, fetal alcohol syndrome, damage due to parental drug use, reactive attachment disorder, spiritual baggage, mental disease etc.)

7. Might the age/gender of the adopted child cause unhealthy tension/competition with existing members of the family?

8. Has God given the parents the capacity to love an adoptive child fully as they would a birth child - or do barriers and prejudices exist?

Potentially-adoptive families are wise to prayerfully, realistically explore these questions. However, keep in mind that many of these questions transfer to biological families as well.

You have probably seen parents who attempt to use biological children to fulfill their own needs. And you may know parents facing an unexpected pregnancy who consider it ‘Plan B.’ There are parents who pursue either massive families OR tiny families to meet some sort of cultural ideal. There are biological fathers and mothers who selfishly try to gain admiration through performance parenting. Sometimes a marriage in trauma will use pregnancy to try and heal deep, destructive husband/wife tension. Sometimes desperate parents will pursue biological children through medical procedures that disrespect life. Sometimes teenage girls will get pregnant intentionally-- in the hopes of gaining a sense of home through their newborn child. And every single one of us is born into spiritual baggage that affects those we love.

So, whether we are discussing adoptive families or biological families, whenever an adult moves into parenthood with a motive of insecurity, performance, or consumption instead of faith, humility, and worship, their sin will affect others. It’s so sad that someone as vulnerable as a child could be used for selfish gain. But it happens in many families, adoptive or biological.

In the second part of this note, I’d like to address some popular inaccuracies that I am finding on adoption. I want to make it clear that my tone here is compassionate, not harsh. In fact, I had a few of these same concerns a decade ago when we first began to explore adoption. Maybe our rocky process, and God's movement through selfish hearts, will help others gain some clarity?


1.) “The biological child (the fruit of a marriage union) is more sacred somehow.”

Particularly in our area of the country, reverence for the ‘womb’ of a wife has become almost a religion in itself. A certain degree of reverence is healthy – a hearty swing away from secular, utilitarian views on procreation. There is something very holy and beautiful about the mystery of marital conception. Couples who arrogantly refuse God’s mastery over their fertility are missing out on the fullest joys of communion with Him.

However, this doesn’t mean that a biological child is more sacred. If this were true, then our own salvation would be secondary. We were each adopted into the kingdom of God. He made us His sons. It was not something we inherited, deserved, or can claim, apart from the purchase of Christ on our behalf. Because of our adoption alone, we are dearly embraced by the God who died to embrace us.

A healthy understanding of God’s sovereignty also prevents distinction between biological and adopted children. Many adoptive parents who followed God into adoption will tell you that God clearly chose THIS child for their family. God’s involvement in this match has been confirmed to them in a thousand ways. They know they were meant to be together. But this mystery is something casual observers cannot often understand.

Watching adoptive families receive the brunt of this criticism makes me empathize for Mary and Joseph even more. I can now imagine Jesus' earthly parents explaining, “But the Sovereign God of the Universe decided to put our family together in a different way!” And the casual observers didn’t ‘get it’ then, either.

When God moves through non-traditional means, it’s normal for misunderstanding to happen. And it’s especially normal for religious people to misunderstand. What a great opportunity, though, to lovingly move into the confusion! God often provides a special communion with Himself that tends to carry us through lonely times like this.

2.) “The adopted child is tainted by generational sin.”

This is an understandable concern. Regardless of your theology on inherited sin, you know that orphaned children are sometimes abused in the womb through alcohol or drugs. They can enter the world undefended, often facing abuse that wounds their infant souls. Also, their parents might have suffered from a mental disorder or a genetic propensity toward a certain weakness. In so many ways, the enemy of our souls is prowling around these children, eager to destroy the image of God beaming forth from them.

So when you step into this realm, you are stepping into a spiritual arena. I’m starting to see how likely it is that adoptive families will face challenges similar to what missionaries on the field encounter. It can be hard. It can be painful. But what is our alternative? To politely excuse ourselves because it’s not always easy? Are we to look away while 147 million souls slide into eternity without exposure to Christ’s embrace?

Last year I read something on an adoption message board that has permanently changed my thinking. Some parents had taken the medical records of an orphan to the pediatrician for evaluation, trying to find out what the “worst case scenario” would be if they adopted that child. The pediatrician called them out. He said, “The worst case scenario is for that child to stay in the orphanage!” The same is true spiritually.

Why is our default to protect self instead of a child who needs us? Is it better for that child to struggle with spiritual darkness (if it exists) alone? And where would we be if our Father had chosen the easiest path? I realize this is a complex question, and not every parent is suited for every child. Knowing our limitations is a loving thing, and adoption can be very, very hard. Yet there's a fine line between healthy boundaries and selfishness. And I think it's a line worth exploring.

Also, I hate to state the obvious, but what about those ugly tendencies of your birth children? Maybe your grandfather was an alcoholic? Maybe your grandmother had bi-polar disorder? What about those family secrets no one mentions, because we feel tainted somehow by them? ALL children enter the world with spiritual baggage. That’s why parents are given -- to help wage war on a child's behalf. Maybe our God will move through us to help overcome the darkness a child would otherwise face alone? Or maybe He will use our adopted child to protect and grow our parental hearts somehow? That's how God tends to use the family dynamic, regardless of how He's woven it together.

3.) “Those orphans are happier than we think.”

It’s commonly suggested that orphaned kids are actually content with their surroundings. We are told that they are happy where they are, so we shouldn’t uproot them into our nice homes where they might cause problems for our birth kids.

Yes, adopted children often grieve when they leave the only world they have ever known. And some orphanages provide compassionate, encouraging care during a child's wait for a home. But some do not.

One little boy from Europe was terrified when he first felt the wind and saw the sun (at the age of four), because he had spent his entire life to that point sitting in a bed looking at a concrete wall. He was terrified when the car taking him away from the orphanage began to move, because he’d never felt motion. For those first few days, technically, he would have been ‘more content’ lying in the orphanage, because that was normal for him. Does that mean he was happy there?

In another country, children lie silently in rooms alone. They will not be fed, because they are sick and left to die. Though they are tiny and weak, they know somehow that their only hope is death.

All over the world, children in orphanages have lost the ability to cry (literally) because they know no one will come for them. Entire rooms are silent -- full of babies who have lost hope. And these babies wait in a country where the teaching of Jesus will never touch them. Some of them will be sexually or physically abused. They will live and die without hearing about Jesus. Is that happiness? Or is it resignation?

My niece couldn’t talk when she was first adopted, because she had a cleft lip and palate. She went into surgery several weeks after she was adopted. A family bond had grown quickly between them, and it was very hard for her mom, dad, and brothers to watch her go into that hospital. Her first word was spoken through a swollen, post-surgery upper lip. That word was “Mama.” She loved her Mama. She had needed one for a long, long time. Finally, a hole God had placed deep in her little soul was filled. And a hole God had placed deep in Mom, Dad, and brothers was filled too. God had completed something in all of them by making them a family.

4.) “If you aren’t careful, you will start to think ‘theologically’ instead of ‘realistically.’

I’ll have to admit I was baffled when I first heard this argument. Reading through the New Testament, I don't find my definition of ‘realistic’ stamped on everything God does.

One of the dangers of living in a wealthy, responsible, established hub of Christianity is that we can ignore the living voice of God if we aren’t careful. We have access to so many programs that equate ‘safety’ with ‘spiritual responsibility.’ Christian finance programs tell us how to die wealthy. Courtship resources tell us how to check off boxes and find the perfect mate. Ten-step programs tell us how to discover God’s will for everything we do.

Logic is certainly a gift from our Father that can guide us in many situations. There is wisdom in using this tool we’ve been given. But what if God’s ‘aliveness’ occasionally steps outside of what we expect? Are we willing to let our religion expand into a relationship?

Would the widow who gave her last mite ace a Christian investment program? Would Hosea or Ruth match up with conservative courtship standards? What about naked, preaching Isaiah ... walking around three years like that... would he pass a right-wing modesty checklist? And what about God our Father, who risked the perfect, safe, clean, holy family... Sacrificing His BELOVED Son... so that He adopt dirty me (with so many problems) as His child?

‘Theology’ and ‘reality’ are not opposites. ‘Idealism’ and ‘realism’ are opposites. This is very important to remember. A good theology will encompass times when God operates through logic AND when He calls us to seemingly depart from it.

Maybe I’m becoming too simplistic. But after closely watching the adoption of some friends’ children (and of my amazing niece), I guess I think the single most important question for an adoptive family is whether or not God is calling you to do it. Yes, God has given us reason as a tool. And we should use it. But over and again in His Word, God called His people into situations that looked risky or foolish from the observer’s viewpoint. And He can make such beautiful things happen in that soil.

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About This Blog

Welcome to our family’s adoption journey. As you read, you will see us stumble and take wrong paths. You will see our hopes surge and fall. You will see the gaps in our humanity, and how our God realigns us to His purposes over and again. We think the messiness of this process is important. Sometimes walking with God isn’t a neat, linear package that can be summarized in bullet points. More often, life ebbs and flows around our plans, while God works His sovereign wonders from it all. We are learning so much through this journey. And we are super excited about our new son. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you along for the ride.

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