“Why do adopted children and their families often face so many struggles?”
This is not just a question of those looking from the outside in, but a question most of us adoptive parents have asked ourselves, if not someone else. And, as one seeks answers to these questions, there are a number of great professionals and researchers out there that can detail the impact that trauma, neglect and abandonment have on the developing brain and psyche of the a child. While this information is true and very helpful, it is not the whole story. These partial explanations ignore the spiritual realities that impact children from difficult backgrounds and their families.
We must remember that God created a perfect design for how a child should grow and learn and mature. When sin entered that world, this design was broken and for foster and adoptive children, sin has so broken that original design that it requires others to step in and play the role that a child’s biological parents could not or would not. For Christian families, it is a special calling to live out a redemption story in a child’s life and to the world around them. Adoption is a beautiful, gospel-shining thing, but, adoption only exists because sin has damaged God’s original design for that child, which by definition creates pain and loss, some of which will not heal this side of heaven.
“Adoption is a beautiful, gospel-shining thing, but, adoption only exists because sin has damaged God’s original design for that child, which by definition creates pain and loss, some of which will not heal this side of heaven.”
When I get the opportunity to talk to a group of folks about adoption and foster care, I like to help them to understand that their obedience to the call to serve children in need of a family is in reality a mission of great importance and real risk. This is because that mission is very similar to that of the people that we actually call “missionaries.” These folks go out into the spiritually dark places of the world to bring God’s light to those people and those places, and we rightly view them as heroes of the faith. I firmly believe we need to add our adoptive and foster families to that list, and not because I happen to be in the group, but primarily because of the brave families I know who have faced far more pain, chaos and personal cost than I have as they have answered this calling of God on their lives.
Adoptive and foster parents are different from missionaries in that instead of going out and immersing themselves and often their families in the spiritual darkness around them, foster/adoptive families are going out and bringing some of that darkness into their very home. Not that the children are the darkness, but that the darkness has laid claim to them and those dark forces are not pleased that God has begun a process of redemption in that child’s life and is using the obedience and self-sacrifice of these parents to do that work. The enemy is furious that a soul has been snatched from the awful, sin-induced situation that has made that child fatherless and in need of a family and is now beginning the process of healing and training a future warrior for the Truth. And so, I find that the enemy clings tightly and defiantly to maintain his hold on their hearts and minds through fear, anger, lies and distrust.
As I have walked the path with many families, I have witnessed first hand the flailing attempts of the enemy to disrupt the redemptive process going on in these homes, and it is costly to families. At the same time that He is healing the brokenness in the hearts, minds and lives of these children, God is also doing amazing things in the lives of the parents, siblings and extended families and churches of those kids. He is in the process of bestowing a crown of beauty in the place of the ashes of defeat and despair (Isa. 61:3). Our God is a God of redemption and there is no greater joy for us than in participating in his redeeming and setting right the whole of creation (Rom. 8:20-21).
So what can families do when they are struggling with the difficult realities I have just discussed?
First, we should always utilize these difficulties as opportunities to throw ourselves into our Heavenly Father’s arms and spend lots of time talking with Him, praying for both their children and themselves.
Secondly, God has given us the larger family of the Church as a guide, support and battle on our behalf.
Thirdly, in recent years, more and more research has been done that helps us better understand the impact of our children’s histories on their function and methods to help them heal. There are also professionals that have spent years studying this research and working with families to help kids heal and families to more effectively reflect God’s design for the family. I believe it is critical that if at all possible the professional you work with understands and works within a framework that recognizes both the material/earthly realities and the spiritual realities that impact our children and our families. I am very pleased to work alongside a group of godly counselors at the Austin Stone Counseling Center, several of whom have received special training and experience in working with children with difficult pasts, and their families.
If you are an adoptive or foster family and are struggling, give the center a call. There is a team here that can help you in your quest to parent your adopted or foster child well, giving them the opportunity to heal grow and mature both emotionally and spiritually.