How Adoption Changed my Theology
by Ashlee Gray
My original title for this article was ‘What adoption taught me about God’, however I realized that might make it seem as though a person must adopt to learn things about God. Or that adoption alone has led me to having some sort of special communication with God and he tells me things he doesn’t tell others. But these things I learned from adopting, I should have learned from reading God’s word—I am just extra dense. In 2016, my husband and I traveled to India to bring home our two little girls. Through the process, I learned some pretty powerful spiritual truths, but the greatest was that we don’t need a special trip to India to hear from him—God primarily speaks to us through his word. So I decided a better title would be ‘How adoption changed my theology’.
Theology is the study of who God is. Everyone has a theology because everyone has an opinion about God. You may think there is no God, or that there are many gods, or that we all have a god within ourselves—though I would argue that those are all bad theologies!
Tony Merida, an author, pastor and adoptive dad often says how it should be our theology, not our biology, that must drive us to adopt; it is important to separate biology or infertility from adoption. When we link infertility with adoption, we treat adopted children as ‘plan B’ or a consolation prize. We also minimize the pain and struggle of infertility by saying things like “just adopt”—as if adoption is easy.
Because of medical issues, I knew from a young age that I wouldn’t have biological children. I also had the opportunity to visit an orphanage in Guatemala when I was 20 and left knowing I would adopt in the future. I never felt like it was a second best option for me. But I recognize that my experience can not be broadly applied. Having had many friends and family that have gone through infertility struggles, I have seen their pain, and month after month of waiting and disappointment. People in these situations need to be ministered to and cared for; they need to properly mourn the biological children they longed for. Adoption is not a cure for their pain.
But when they have properly mourned and have begun to heal and start to consider adoption, it must still be their theology that drives them. Expecting an adopted child to fill a hole in your heart is a recipe for disaster. Adoption must come from the overflow of love that Jesus has put into your heart, and recognition of your own adoption into God’s family through the blood of Jesus.
That leads me to the first way that adoption changed my theology: God is completely sovereign over all the good and all the bad.
Before I adopted, I had the idea that any pain I experienced or any bad thing happening around me came from Satan, but God was doing his best to make sure that the good outweighed the bad in my life, trying to keep Satan at bay as best he could. This poor theology presented a big problem for me when we started the process of adopting. The very nature of adoption means that something bad has happened (a child loses their parents) followed by something good happening (a child getting a new family). I was convinced that it was God’s will for me to adopt. But did that mean that it was his will for my girls’ mother to abandon them?
We know from Scripture that God loves children. In Mark 10:14 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” And we know he has a heart for the poor and needy. Proverbs 14:31 says, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Even Psalm 140:12 declares “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” So is the abandonment of children by poor mothers who can’t care for their children outside of his control?
I had to come face to face with the fact that God is in control of all things—the good and the bad. I should have learned this from Scripture many years earlier.
Psalm 115:3 reminds us that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
Job 23:13 says: But he is unchangeable and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does.
And in Matthew 10:29 Jesus says:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
I love the way John Piper puts it:
God has the capacity to will something in one sense that he disapproves of in another sense. We consider this because it seems to be the case again and again in Scripture which is the only place we can find clear and reliable things about God.
Piper explains that the best example of this is how God willed the death of his own son for the accomplishment of his wise and holy purposes, yet Jesus’ death came about because of lies, murder, and pride. These are all sins which we know God does not approve of.
Once we come to terms with God’s sovereignty over all things, it leads us to one of two places: we can start to question God’s goodness, or we trust his goodness, finding rest and peace that transcends all understanding in our God who is both sovereign and good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
You may be able to imagine how I felt at this point. This new theology was the missing piece of the puzzle for me and now I had it all figured out. There was nothing left for me to learn and I was going to move forward confident in my God and (to be honest) in myself for figuring out this great new life-changing information! There would be no challenge I could not face with this new recognition of God’s sovereignty! And then we adopted.
In October 2016, we traveled to India and brought home Evelyn and Vivian. All of my new found confidence flew right out the window. I felt totally inadequate and helpless. We were figuring out parenting and Indian culture on the same trip. Our social workers had told us that our girls would eat with their hands and we shouldn’t rush spoon eating. But after the girls saw us eating with spoons they picked theirs up and started eating with them. I felt like I was smack in the middle of an ugly American moment and trying to rush them to “be like us” so I proceeded to take the spoon from them. I then tried to feed them with a spoon and gave them bites so big they almost choked. It was a disaster.
Then the eight-hour car ride came and our driver decided to try doing it in four hours. I have never felt so car sick in my life! Both the girls puked non-stop for the entire ride. We then spent three long days in airports and on planes to finally get home. I’m still not quite sure how we survived other than the grace of God.
Once we finally settled into the task of being parents on US soil, I discovered the second way that adoption changed my theology: I desperately need him every single second of the day. Before our adoption, I thought I had a ‘sins’ problem. I’d gossip with a friend, then ask for forgiveness. I’d let out a curse word when I stubbed my toe, then ask forgiveness for that. Some nights I’d even lay in bed praying before I fell asleep and think, “Hm, I can’t think of any sins that I committed today. Good job, Ashlee!”
Bringing home Evelyn and Vivian made me realize that I wasn’t as good as I thought. I lost my temper multiple times a day. I ignored them when they needed me most as I shopped online to distract myself and make myself feel better. There was even a day when it seemed they’d poisoned my dog (the only one in the house who I felt truly loved me at the time). I responded by throwing things (not at anyone, praise God). I was a monster!
My behavior shouldn’t have shocked me as it did. I also should have learned from Scripture years earlier that I am a totally depraved wretch even on my ‘good’ days. I need only to be reminded of Psalm 143:2: “No one living is righteous before you.” Or Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” Or Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The New City Catechism defines sin as “rejecting or ignoring God in the world He created”. By that definition, I don’t do much of anything without sinning; I am plagued by selfish thoughts and I am constantly seeking my own glory. I have a sin problem in my very nature that is so much worse than a ‘sins’ problem. We shouldn’t be surprised by our sin—or our children’s, for that matter—but we should also not be indifferent to it. God provided the solution for our sin and our children’s and it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must remind ourselves of it continually as we go about our day.
Our sin has separated us from God and we deserve his wrath. The good news is that God has made a way for us to escape his wrath. He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life so that he would be a perfect sacrifice. If Christ had sinned even once he would have deserved the death he died just as we deserved it—but he did not sin. He lived a holy life. He suffered and absorbed the wrath from God that should have been ours. He rose from the dead so that those who believe in him and in his atoning death on the cross will also rise from the dead. When our faith is in Christ, we are hidden in Christ. God no longer looks at us and sees our sin but sees his perfect son. We are now brought back to God (adopted by him!) and able to live with him forever.
This same gospel that saves us also empowers us to fight sin as we go about our days. We are accepted through Jesus by the holy God of the universe; we don’t have to worry about our kids liking us. We get our value from our creator who bought us with the price of his son’s blood. Our value is not based on how well our kids turn out. We are recipients of God’s great mercy and glorious grace, so we are able to show mercy and grace to our children (instead of throwing things). Death has no sting for us, so we do not have to lie awake at night worrying about our children’s safety. The gospel changes everything. And we need it every second of the day.
These are the ways adoption changed my theology. And we can know all this by simply diligently reading his word. You may think, as I did, that you don’t have time. I thought being a good Christian meant sitting in a quaint area of my home with a cup of coffee and my Bible and having an hour of uninterrupted ‘quiet time’ of studying and praying. But all moms of young children know there is no such thing as uninterrupted quiet time. And, as Nancy Guthrie says, “the words ‘quiet time’ are not in the Bible.” This is why, at our stage of life, it is important to read the Word with others. God gave us each other to help each other grow and mature, so don’t feel defeated because you have no quiet time to study the Bible on your own. Join a Bible study at church, invite a friend over to study with you, read the Bible aloud to your kids. This is how we truly hear from God.
This ‘new’ theology of mine, I want you to hear today. No matter how God brought your children to you, the most important thing you can do is to be in his word and in community with others. I promise that, if you take time to do this, God will transform your theology too.