There are some two million adopted children living in United States’ households today. These children arrive in their homes in a myriad of ways. Some are abandoned or surrendered to children’s services. Some have biological parents who are children themselves, and are in no condition to parent. Some have been conceived under horrific conditions: Incest, rape, or some other impossible situation. Some are from the States; some from overseas; some come out of foster care; some come from an adoption agency; and some come from out of nowhere, it seems. But most all have this in common: They are loved. The adoptive parents who receive these children want them, and they want to provide a loving home for them.
I have some experience with this. Two of those two million adopted children live under my own roof. They are teenagers now, and have always lived with the knowledge of their adoption. When they were younger, and I suppose they need to hear it even more as they move toward adulthood, I would tell them, “Everyone is born, you know. But not everyone is chosen. Not everyone has the honor of being selected; but you were.” Granted, this doesn’t settle all of their anxieties, and now in adolescence, they have all the existential anxieties of their peers, all the questions everyone struggles with – “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I in the world? How do I fit in? What is my identity?” – but those who are adopted often have these questions on steroids.
Some questions, I tell my growing young men, will be answered now. Some answers will come in adulthood. But some questions, I caution them, may never be answered. Yet, they cannot let all the unanswerable questions of their existence rob them of these essential facts: They are loved. They are chosen. They are cherished – and they were cherished long before they were even conscious of such emotion.
One of the New Testament’s more powerful images, as it describes God’s concern for humanity, is, fittingly, adoption. The Apostle Paul is the champion of such language. “By his great love,” Paul said, “we were chosen for adoption into God’s family.” In Paul’s day, the most common form of adoption originated in the workplace. Orphaned children, in ancient times, were often forced into slavery. For a predetermined number of years, the child would give himself or herself to a tradesman – brick masons, farmers, artisans, and other trades that involved hard manual labor.
The child’s hope was to make it to adulthood, and having learned a trade, he or she would then have a livable skill set. But sadly, the tradesmen would often wring the literal life from the child, and he or she would die from exhaustion or neglect, only to be replaced by another slave from the auction block. Thankfully, not all tradesmen were traffickers. Some became mothers or fathers. A person could adopt a child-laborer. This released the child from slavery and granted to the adoptee all the rights and privileges of family. This was a revolution of status, a radical change in one’s identity. He or she was no longer an orphan, but became a son or daughter. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “God’s love should make it plain; you are not his slaves. You are his children.”
To recognize that you are loved and chosen by God might not squelch all of your anxieties or address all of your identity issues, but it is a good place to start. For if you know that God loves you, then you can make allowance for the things that you don’t know; if you understand that you belong to him, then you can live with those things that can’t be understood; and when you are certain of your acceptance, then you can accept all other uncertainties. I pray that these facts will serve as a grounding force for my sons as they grow into the lives that will become theirs. And yes, I pray the same for all of us.