Adoption is hard.
That’s what makes me uncomfortable about the main narrative presented in churches this month, with Orphan Sunday observed in some churches this past weekend and National Adoption Month being celebrated throughout November. In the church, we gravitate toward redemption stories. We like tidy, happy packages wrapped in a bow with rainbows and unicorns.
Let’s take Daniel 3, for example. We say we like that chapter because of the boldness of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known by their captive names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) but if we’re honest, I think there’s another reason. We like Daniel 3 because the three men emerge from the furnace without even the stench of smoke on them.
Sometimes life is like that. I, like those three, believe God can do it. But what about the times when He doesn’t? What happened when the trial is ongoing, the medical condition chronic, and the grief or pain without resolution? Are we willing to accept or even embrace the furnace if that’s the path that God chooses for us, the way that glorifies Him most?
Sometimes adoption stories are like when the three left the furnace. And sometimes they’re more like a prolonged stay in the fire, perhaps with the obvious presence of Christ but nonetheless harsh and blistering.
Are you and your church willing to love families when their adoption story has unfolded all the way to the end of Daniel 3 and families for whom the pain is still acute, the redemption nowhere in sight, and the feeling of failure all the more public because everyone in the church is watching this newly formed family and maybe even fawning over them?
So, please, partner with us. Be willing to listen and learn, especially when what we’re saying doesn’t match the glossy images and fancy videos we like to showcase.
- Learn about attachment and trauma in general.
- Learn about our children specifically, without assuming that the happy stories you’ve heard from other adoptions fit their realities and without assumption that the hard stories you’ve heard from other adoptions fit their realities either.
- Learn to look for potential triggers, such as noticing when the Bible story for Sunday school or children’s small group time includes the abandonment or death of a child, violence within a family, abuse by someone in a position of authority, or the doctrine of adoption, for example. The first three listed could elicit traumatic memories while the last could be confusing when the same words are used for earthly horizontal adoption of parent to child as for spiritual vertical adoption of God to us.
- Listen to the challenges we encounter as adoptive and foster families, such as being conspicuous in public due to adopting or fostering a child of a different race, considering dissolution or disruption of a child’s placement within our family in favor of another family who might be better equipped to meet the child’s needs, losing friends or family who don’t agree with our choice to adopt or foster, and struggling with the special needs of our child, whether known before placement or presenting as a surprise post-placement. As you listen, remember that we are flawed and human rather than saints or idols.
- Listen to the real life testimonies of adult adoptees, including both those that do and do not fit the usual mold presented in Christian adoption materials. In this case, “listening” might be done in person or online via blogs or essays.
- Listen and join with us in recognizing that God’s call for church isn’t just adoption but also care for widows and preservation of existing families in hopes of preventing the need for some adoptions.
Adoption can be hard, and adoption can be beautiful. No matter how hard adoption or foster care is, though, when the church commits to loving adoptive and foster families by listening to and learning from us no matter what our circumstances might be, that’s always an act of beauty.
In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.
Join keynote speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Emily Colson, Barb Newman and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here to view our entire speaker lineup and register for Inclusion Fusion 2014.