Adoption & the Gospel: Simile or Metaphor?
One of the great benefits of being an elementary teacher is actually remembering all that helpful, but slightly forget-able knowledge you learned back in your early days...
Husband: "How many cups are in a gallon?"
Husband: "Are you sure?"
Me, emphatically: "I made the Gallon Man seven years in a row. Believe me, it's sixteen."
Yes, I am your personal measurement Google in the kitchen. And since I'm a bit of a language nerd, I can also tell you the difference between two slightly confusing linguistic terms: simile and metaphor.
Simile: comparing something to another using "like" or "as" (example: "He is as loud as a roaring lion.")
Metaphor: comparing something by stating it is something else (example: "He is a roaring lion.")
We as Christians (and even adoptive parents) are so easy to jump on the "adoption is the Gospel" train. And for some good reasons. Just like God brings us into His family, we are bringing a child into our family. Just as He showed compassion on us, we are showing compassion on our children. Just as He loves us with an everlasting love, we are committing to love and care for these precious souls for the rest of our lives.
However, these similarities of God adopting us can lead us to unconsciously assuming a few things about ourselves, as human adoptive parents, as well as some erroneous presumptions about the very children we love and/or want to adopt...
1. The "Gospel" means "good news." "Adoption" is not synonymous with "good news." At all. EVER.
The word "gospel" in Greek means either "good news" or the act of proclaiming good news. While it is "good news" for a child longing for a family to receive the message that they are being adopted, adoption does not start with anything "good." Adoption is born out of a broken circumstance, where biological parents are unable, for a myriad of reasons, to care for their child. Even international adoption is not "good news" for our sons, as it takes them from their birth culture and first language. For them and millions of others precious waiting children, adoption (especially international adoption) may be their only way to a hope-filled future, but because of life-altering tragedy and trauma. Yes, it's true that, "...in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."(Romans 8:28 NIV), however it doesn't negate the fact that this "good" comes from the most painful of circumstances.
2. When God saves us, we become a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). When adopting a child, he or she still has the same identity.
I'm so grateful that when God adopted me into His family, He breathed new life in me. My sinful habits are still there, however I am no longer a slave of Satan and chained to my sinful habits. I have the Holy Spirit within me to refine me, correct me, and strength me.
Adoptive parents can subconsciously believe that by adopting this child, we will somehow "change" or "transform" this tiny (or not so tiny) person. While it's true there may be some outward changes (like our son grew four inches the first year he was home!), we should never expect our child's identity or personality to alter. The longer our son is apart of our family, the more his fun-loving goofiness shines forth. As he gets more comfortable around us, he opens up to us, which can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time. It's a daily balancing act of encouraging him to be who God has created him to be while teaching him appropriate behaviors. We pray every day for all our children's salvation, however until God comes in and transforms our son's life, we on our own cannot change our son, nor should we every try.
3. God rescues us from the miry pit of hell (2 Thess. 1:8-10). Adoptive parents sometimes adopt a child from a terrible situation, however many times a child is loved by foster parents or orphanage nannies who do their very best to care for these children.
We often get comments like, "You're saints for rescuing him from a terrible orphanage!" So you can imagine the shocked looks when we say, "Actually, we visited our son's orphanage and it seemed like his nannies loved and cared for him as well they could in a room full of children." Let's be honest, at the end of the day, I'm maxed out loving and caring for two tiny people...imagine 20+ little in one room, various ages and special needs! These women are my heroes! Obviously, there are heartbreaking stories where children are abused and completely neglected, however we are so appreciative to the nurturing women who bathed, clothed, and feed our sons before we could.
While I am so grateful to be saved from eternal separation from God, the worst circumstance anyone can imagine, we did not save our son from a dirty, rotting place. To liken the two dishonors the hands that held him those years I couldn't. We always speak of his nannies with the greatest respect in our home and our hope is that someday we can go back there to show them our thriving boy.
4. God saves us (Eph. 2:8-9). Period. Adoption isn't a walk in the park, but it no way compares to what Christ did for us. Period.
For our salvation, God does all the saving. I am a sinner and He chose to die a horrific death for me. Jesus endured the most painful and humiliating death while I was still His enemy. I, on the other hand, filled out a few (thousand!) stacks of paperwork, got my finger prints done (and redone and redone!), wrote a million and one emails, became a frequent visitor of the post office, worked hard to save money, humbled myself to ask others for financial assistance, and got on a plane to bring my son home. Yes, adoption is hard and it'll take all you've got and so much more. Yes, the hard gets even harder when your child is home and you all are struggling to find your new normal. Yes, you'll have to learn to parent differently, sleep less, pray more, drive to a million doctor's appointments and therapies. Yes, your heart will be broken for your child and the millions of others like him or her. But that's nothing compared to allowing your precious, perfect Son to be killed by the ones He came to save. Compared to be beaten, mocked, bruised, pierced, and then saying "Father forgive them" (Luke 23:34 NIV). Period. Likening the two can easily make us adoptive parents pat ourselves a little too much on the back...instead of reminding ourselves that we are just trying to obey God's call to sacrificially love His little ones, just has He has lavishly done for us.
5. Because of all that Jesus has done for me, I owe Him my steadfast devotion and praise all the rest of my days. Our children brought into our family through adoption don't owe us a thing. Not one thing.
Heaven is a popular topic in our house. Our daughter thinks it will be boring because she won't have her dolls. Our son thinks it'll be awful because there will be no bacon and ice cream. They both can't comprehend that we will be praising God for endless days...and I struggle wrap my mind around paradise with my loving Heaven Father forever as well. But what I do know is that when I think of all He's done for me, taking me from death to life and allows me to be with Him forever and ever and ever, "eternally grateful" doesn't even begin to describe how I feel. I will, along with the rest of creation, get to sing this song to my Creator,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13 ESV)
We can unknowingly transfer this "eternally grateful" attitude we have towards God for all He has done for us and purposefully or not, expect it from our children that we have adopted. But here's the crazy thing...not once has anyone ever suggested to my biological daughter that she should be thankful we gave her life. I personally don't expect her to say, "Boy, I really appreciate you putting up with nine months of throwing up, a steady diet of saltine crackers, and swollen ankles so I can be in this world today!" But yet, for some ridiculous reason, the culture today can put pressure on children who have been adopted to show life-long gratitude to their parents. Although, of course as parents it's nice to hear a "I love you, Mom!" or "Thanks, Dad!" occasionally, we cannot ever expect any of our children to sing our praises for the rest of our days...because, we didn't do anything, except be obedient to the One who has done everything for us.
6. Salvation is the best "happily ever after" there ever is. Adoption is never an automatic "happy" ending.
God did everything in my salvation story and I get to be in heaven with Him for ever and ever. Sounds better than even the best Disney movie! But many people enter into adoption assuming that once a child is adopted, their lives will be "happy," hurts will be healed, and all will be well. After years of listening to different adoptees' voices, our hearts break that this is not always the case. Adoption affects each person differently and God may use it as a tool to bring healing, however there should never be the assumption that any of our lives in this broken world will be "happy." The Bible says to “weep with those who weep,” just as much as it says to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15 ESV). Maybe God is calling some of us to sit broken-hearted with our precious children whose lives before us were filled with trauma or who were tragically taken from their biological families, creating lifelong grief and sorrow.
So, should pastors stop preaching about adoption from the pulpit? Absolutely not, in my humblest of humble opinion. Paul, in a different circumstance said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly...” (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV). In ancient times, copper or metal was rubbed until a slight reflection could be seen, revealing a person’s fuzzy outline. In the same way, human adoption is a “fuzzy reflection” of the astounding miracle of God adopting us, rebels sprinting away from Him while He laid down His very life for us (Romans 5:8).
Because I've gone through the process of adopting my son, I am more astounded that He would chose lowly and ordinary me, grafting me into His forever family (Romans 11:17).
Because I know what it's like to fill out stacks of paperwork, do and re-do fingerprints, recount all the details of my life, chase endless stamps and seals, work hard and humbly ask others to help us climb a mammoth financial mountain, and hop on a long plane flight to a country that isn't my own, I have a teen tiny perspective on the arduous road Jesus with chose joy when He came to this earth and journeyed to the cross to buy my redemption (Hebrews 12:2).
Because our son, out of thousands of other children, was brought into our family, I have a greater appreciation for Jesus, our Good Shepherd, seeking the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). There is infinite worth in one life, therefore we must pursue the one with all that we have just like Jesus did for us.
Because there is so much I don't know as my son's parent about his history, I am ever so grateful that our Heavenly Father knows everything about him. Before he was in my arms, our Heavenly Father was with him and saw him...and always sees and knows my heart too.
And because we anxiously wait now for another son on the other side of the ocean, loving a boy we only have a hand full of pictures and short video clips of, the words, "For God so love the world..." (John 3:16) amazes me even more. Out of all the orphans waiting and hoping for a family, we know and love one. But God both knows and loves them all.
So, is it “adoption is the Gospel” or “adoption is like the Gospel”? Although I'm still very much a newbie on this adoption journey, the longer I'm on this road, the more I'm convinced that comparing human adoption to be the same as God's adoption of us can lead to subtle, but unfair presumptions and even dangerous expectations. May we carefully search our words and our hearts, always seeking what is best for our precious children while striving to glorify the One who bought our salvation with His very blood.