Trisha Wilkerson is the author of Everyday Worship: Our Work, Heart and Jesus. She and her husband, Mike are the parents of six young children.
People often say, “Adoption is God’s heart.” I’m weary and wary of hearing this . . . without the nuance, at least. Yes, adoption is God’s heart. But well meaning, redemption-loving people can often embrace the beauty of adoption while neglecting to communicate its grit.
The desire to adopt had been living in an almost-forgotten corner of my heart when three years ago we heard about a little boy who needed a family. At the time I had a manuscript due (my first book) and we were stressed to the max with our pastoral ministry and family of six. We were overwhelmed and doing what we loved. When I heard about a three-year-old orphan in Europe, I wasn’t ready to consider adoption and didn’t want to hear to the sense of urgency that I sensed from the Lord. Yet, God kept pressing.
Through God’s providence, we adopted that boy as well as his little brother. Four biological and two adopted children. I never planned on a family this size, yet God did. And His affection for me and each one of our kids has been evident as He walked us through the adoption process and the first few years of having our new boys. His steadfast love has held us every day with grace for every step.
But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
When you think of God’s heart, do you picture happiness? I hope so. If you lean in and consider what love really is, there is an element of deep happiness. But on the far side of love in this fallen world there is also pain. I have read a lot about love recently. The big idea of love is death. Dying to one’s self. Choosing to lay one’s life down for another. Though feelings are involved in love, they’re not the main idea. And neither in this broken world, is happiness. Love costs something. Love is painful. Love is sometimes suffering for those you love. Love is to see someone else being loved by God. Love is when you know God is with you in your struggle.
Adoption in a broken world has been brutal and beautiful. I’ve learned firsthand that the traumatic losses orphans have are part of who they are. I’ve seen the affliction of the orphan Scripture talks about in the devastation of their loss. Every single life is precious and each person is made in God’s image and meant to reflect the Glory of God. Yet, sin distorts that reflection. The suffering, sin and harm done in these kids' lives leaves them vulnerable and in need. We are called to care. But in loving them, we sometimes absorb their pain as we bear with them.
As a momma, losing the family we had before adopting has been painful. I’ve had to grieve what was and humbly allow the Lord to reshape and rebuild our relationships into the family we are becoming. I wasn’t ready for that. Our four biological kids welcomed their little brothers graciously and were changed by going to Latvia to adopt them. However, loving their new brothers costs them. They’ve had to learn to be flexible with their parents’ attention to the needs of adopted siblings as the boys transitioned into our family.
If I’m being brutally honest, those first several months of adoption were filled with despair, depression, and darkness. I didn’t think I would make it through. God kept holding my hand even though I would’ve rather held onto fear and control instead. My emotions were all over the map. I panicked a lot. The peaceful home life and steady emotional culture of our family was gone. Our counselors and books said, as the boys felt safer and more attached, we would see calmer moods. But fear threatened my hope in those days, and it was easy to forget my anchor to God’s steadfast love. The passion that drove me to orphan advocacy seemed like a distant memory.
But, love. It works, and there is no greater power. Through the grace of God as we struggled to love one another our boys stopped freaking out. Consistent affection and patient, steadfast love from their parents calmed them. The healing nurture of God touched our children through us. But it wasn’t magic. It was sacrifice and it was work. We still have waves of regression to bad behaviors. But tears flow less often and I have let my guard down, allowing my sons into the mommy spot in my heart.
To simply state “love heals” doesn’t communicate the grit and pain of adoption. Yet, it is simple: love does heal. It is nothing new. It is the cross.
Remember the cheerful, happy thoughts of love? These feelings are part of the joy of being loved. When we see a cross, we feel loved, right? As believers, we know the cost of our sin: Jesus willingly taking our punishment on the cross. He absorbed the shame and suffering in my life because he was full of love for His Father and for me. The cross brings me incredible joy. But the cross is also gore. Bloody, ugly, messy, dark and shameful. Love is like that, too.
The profound and simple truth is that love feels the happiest when experienced through the gore. Love takes me dying to my desires for control to find peace. It takes me putting someone else first. It takes sacrifice and death. When my child spat in our faces and called us names in other languages, I felt terrible shame. But it wasn’t my shame I felt, but my son's. The shame of the sin done to my son was coming out on to us. Love calls me to bear that with him, to point him to the One who bore it for him so that we can both long for redemption from it together. This love is a battle, but it’s been won on the glorious cross by our Jesus.
Yes, adoption is God’s heart. Adoption is God’s heart like the cross is God’s heart. And just as we are with the cross, we can be honest about the cost of adoption as we rejoice in its redemption. Because our hope in adoption is the gospel, the place where we, too were adopted.