In Adoption, Only Jesus is the Hero
“I think the Lord is asking us to be her parents, not just her sponsors.” I cannot remember now who said it first. My husband and I both sensed the Spirit like a rushing river—the smiling little girl on our fridge was going to be our daughter.
We had begun sponsoring her when she was five—sending a monthly check and letters, receiving photos and hand-drawn cards back in the mail. When we moved to Asia we began visiting her orphanage, taking teams with us to run sports camps and Bible camps. It was the summer that she turned nine that we both knew she was more than a sponsored child to us.
Our oldest birth daughter was four at the time. The knowledge that our future adopted daughter had watched both of her parents pass away when she was four left us breathless. How could we leave a cherished child parentless?
While our hearts longed to provide comfort, our brains wondered if it was best to transplant an older child. And so we began praying and asking the Lord and her orphanage staff, “What should we do?” Both the Thai and American caregivers responded with a unanimous, “It is always better for a child to have a mom and dad. No matter what.” In faith, we set out.
The three years between God’s call and God’s provision found me sick with a broken heart. When my husband and three littles were still sleeping, I would kneel at the couch in our living room and sob, “Lord, your heart is for the fatherless. Why is this so hard? You want to set children in families, so please do it.” I begged and begged him to make a way when it so often seemed there was no way.
The paperwork and home studies and endless court hearings in front of panels of Thai judges culminated with our family relocating to Thailand to finalize everything in the midst of a military coup. There were riots and throngs of police on the streets and government buildings wrecked by bombs. The Lord had to move mountains to finally and forever unite us with our daughter. We brought her home when she was 12.
As Christians we know that God’s heart is for adoption. We rehearse to one another that pure religion looks after the orphan (James 1:27). We believe he sets the fatherless in families (Psalm 68:6) and that he will not leave us as orphans, but that he’ll come to us (John 14:18). We know the Father lovingly adopted us, paying an unspeakable price to make us his own (Ephesians 1:5-7).
We rightly apply the gospel to our lives when we acknowledge that we are adopted sons and daughters and we set out to adopt as well. It is a high and holy calling to be an adoptive mom. It is a right response to the love the Father has freely lavished on us.
But when we adopt, there are limitations to this gospel application, which are not always acknowledged. You and I are not God. We are far from perfect, sinless saviors. And our children don’t fit the mold of repentant and grateful sinners expected after a salvation experience. The parallels do break down.
Every adoption is birthed in brokenness. When you and I step in, our children have already endured losses we will never fathom. They carry pain we cannot heal.
The cultural narrative tells us that they will enter our arms and our love will be enough. Sometimes, the church narrative says something very similar. Amongst believers we cheer, “Yes! This is what God does! This is his heart!” But, after they come home and we settle in, we are often unprepared to apply the gospel to our new, expanded family.
The hard truth is that our love is not enough. Our love, no matter how fierce, will not heal their wounds. And our parenting, no matter how biblical, will not rescue them. Our best-informed, best-educated, best-supported efforts will always fall short. You and I cannot meet our children’s deepest needs, whether they are adopted or not. Our kids need Jesus.
And not only do they need Jesus, but we need Jesus. Adoptive parents, we need the gospel. On this journey we must remember who we are and who we are not. Only Jesus is a hero. Only Jesus is a rescuer. Only Jesus can save lives and redeem people.
Adoption is a tool in God’s hands, not only for our children, but for us as well. He wants to woo us both to himself. And as he does, we remember who he is. We recall what he has done in our lives and we exult in his works recorded in scripture. We remember that he is the trustworthy Father who we and our children need most.
I’ve been a mom for 14 years now and an adoptive mom for almost nine. While it was indeed the gospel that propelled my husband and me to set out in faith to adopt, it was the gospel that I needed more than anything once we came home and it’s the gospel that I still cling to as my adoptive daughter launches into adulthood.
I am reminded daily (hourly!) that my love is not enough. My human efforts will never produce the soul-deep wholeness that all of my kids need. In my frailty, I call out to my Savior. My redeemer. My resurrector. My maker of all things new. I set my hope on him and proclaim his mercies to my own heart and to the hearts of my children as well.
While human adoption is indeed a beautiful picture of our heavenly Father’s adoption of us, it’s also a daily reminder of our inadequacy as moms and our need for the Lord. It’s both a picture and a reminder—a picture of who he is and what he does and a reminder of who we are and what we cannot accomplish.
As the gospel propels us to set out in faith to adopt, let us not forsake it once we arrive home. Let’s not stop short, but continue to rehearse it to ourselves and to our children. May the beauty and pain, joys and sorrows of earthly adoption point us—both parents and children alike—to our perfect adoptive Father in heaven.
Author's Note: A version of this article first appeared at RisenMotherhood.