Looking suffering in the eye

Lucy shares from personal experience and Biblical reflection about how suffering is a part of adoption.

Adoption is not how things were meant to be.

Don't get me wrong: adoption is a beautiful picture of love and acceptance. It is a glorious symbol of God's restorative power and unconditional love, offering a stable childhood and bright future to children who have previously experienced rejection and loss.

But no one could say it was how things were meant to be. The sad truth is that, in our fallen world, families are battling addictions, abuse, poverty, poor mental health, dysfunctional relationships, non-exemplary parenting in their own childhoods, little support - and most often it is a combination of several of these factors that lead to a child being removed from his birth family.

So adoption – whilst not the ideal – gives the opportunity for breaking negative generational cycles, and seeks to ensure that the youngest generation are properly cared for, loved and nurtured into human beings who will ultimately be able to make a positive contribution to society.

The outworking of this traumatic start to life inevitably bears its impact on the child, his adoptive family, and any person who chooses to walk with him on his life journey. (You can read a bit more about the impact of trauma here.)

For starters, the child might have additional needs or complications resulting from substances consumed in utero. An early life without proper nourishment, space to crawl, or limited communication opportunities may also leave their mark, as a child's development plays 'catch-up' for a number of years. A life surrounded by domestic violence, and the heightened stress levels which accompany it, will also take its toll.

Then there are the less tangible effects of adoption: the emotional, psychological and relational questions which start to rear their ugly heads as the child starts to understand more about themselves and the world. Who am I? Where do I belong? Does anyone love me? Why wasn't I good enough for my birth family to keep?

These questions can provoke feelings of guilt, shame, resentment, anger, grief and more in a child or adolescent – and, in turn, impact upon their relationships with family and friends, their susceptibility to addiction and self-harm, the probability of suffering from mental health issues, and their performance at school. For example, did you know that adopted and fostered children are twenty times more likely to be excluded from school than children who are not?(Source: Adoption UK research, November 2017.)

You don't need me to tell you that all of this will impact powerfully on a child's family.

In addition to the simple truth that loving, committed parents will always feel their children's distress themselves, we shouldn't forget the additional pressures on parents of endless school meetings regarding their child, frequent appointments with healthcare professionals, struggles to move up the CAMHS waiting list, guilt over any siblings who may be being 'sidelined' and so on. These pressures can put additional strain on a marriage, not to mention relationships with and between siblings.

In short, suffering is a non-negotiable part of adopting, or being adopted. It might vary from one family to another, but it is always there to some extent.

I've painted a pretty bleak picture here. Those of you who are considering adoption or fostering may feel totally discouraged, while those of you who already do it may be thoroughly depressed. It's one thing to believe in a God who loves and welcomes the vulnerable; it's another to choose to bring suffering into your life in this way.

So is there any hope?

The pat answer would be, “Of course there is! There is Jesus – and He has the victory!” Ultimately, as a Christian, I believe these words to be true – but I also know that the true, final victory will come in the next life, not this one.

When caring for vulnerable children, we will undoubtedly experience moments of victory over suffering, but where is the hope when we're not? When we're walking with our children and their struggles? When we're feeling pessimistic about what the future holds for us or our children?

So often, when faced with suffering, we look away. We don't want to disrupt our comfortable lives, we worry what others might think, or we fear that we won't cope or make any difference at all.

But I find great hope and solace in the life of Jesus. He wasn't afraid to look suffering in the eye. Remember how he looked up at Zacchaeus, that troubled and marginalised man (Luke 19)? Or how he looked at Mary and Martha, and wept with them for their deceased brother, Jesus' friend, Lazarus (John 11:33-35)?

Ultimately, Jesus looked suffering in the eye when he faced the cross. He didn't look away, or choose a more comfortable alternative. If he did, our redemption would not have happened.

As we journey with our vulnerable children, we can be assured of Jesus' presence with us, giving us the power to look suffering in the eye.

We can also be assured that, just as Jesus' ultimate suffering led to our redemption, the suffering that you or your children may be experiencing right now can be used by God for the redemption and renewal of your child. Until then, we pray – and ask others around us to pray – for his character and yours to be shaped and refined through the suffering you are going through.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

Suffering, like adoption, is not how things were meant to be. But suffering, through following God's call into adoption or fostering, can be used for good.

If you're walking a hard path right now, keep walking. God sees your suffering, and He sees you. He is giving you the power to keep looking suffering in the eye until the day when Jesus' victory eradicates suffering forever. Press on, faithful servant!

Written for Home for Good by Lucy Rycroft (LucyRycroft.com)



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