Ten years ago, I was driving along on a delightful road trip with my husband. We had two beautiful, healthy boys, secure jobs and a place in our community. Life was relatively easy and our young family was content.
I can still remember the stretch of road where I first heard the Lord speak to my heart: You’re going to adopt. Little did I know the Lord was really communicating, I’m about to rock your world and change you forever.
With only the Hallmark version of this calling playing out in my head. I told my husband what I had heard from the Lord and that day began a journey that indeed changed our lives forever.
*Spoiler alert* Ten years later, we have walked nine different processes with only one successful placement. My focus was simple and my motives were pure. God told me to do something and I went at it with full gusto with only the vision of a grand airport arrival scene and happily ever after in my mind. I knew nothing about adoption grief.
Every failed attempt and every closed door have ushered in frustration, disappointment and grief. Private domestic, international and state foster care processes have led me to pray through tears asking God for explanation and reprieve.
Through it all, God has been present in my grief
Adoptive and foster families are servants of the Lord, called to step in with a surrendered yes to whatever plans the Lord has in store. More often than not, His plans do not turn out the way we envision. Caring for the orphan and love the fatherless is often messy, unpredictable and opens up the possibility for disappointment and grief.
And while this seems like new problems because of modern systems, the Bible mentions orphans over 40 times. God cares deeply for the orphan and those affected by the brokenness related to the fatherless. And God uses stories of adoption and orphans to redeem them in beautiful ways.
3 Examples of Adoption Grief in the Bible
Moses’ mother, Jochebed, faced with an impossible decision: either watch her son lose his life or lose her son that he may have a chance at life. Ultimately, she surrendered her son to God trusting His plan. We have a similar choice. Embrace His unpredictable plan or walk away. Because of Jochebed’s faith, we see God’s hand over Moses as he was set apart by God to deliver His people.
In surrendering her son to the Nile, Jochebed also surrendered the joy of raising her son. What grief she must have felt. On the other side of the story, we see Pharaoh’s daughter find and instantly love Moses.
And here, scripture reveals a hard truth concerning adoption: One woman’s grief became another woman’s joy.
In God’s goodness, He ordained for Moses’ mother to nurse and care for him during his infancy. This example gives us insight into the challenge and beauty of open adoption.
On one side of every adoption and foster story is a family grieving because they cannot care for a child. On the other side of every adoption and foster story is a family longing to love and welcome a child into their family.
Ties to the biological family are never fully cut. This can cause grief for the child who wonders why and grief for the parents who desperately want to fulfill a place in their child’s heart they simply cannot.
Moses’ mother had to relinquish him and forty years later, so did Pharaoh’s daughter. What is the lesson from this example in scripture? Learn to live open handed with the children God places in your life, understanding that He always has a bigger plan and purpose for their lives.
Esther lost both of her parents and was adopted by her uncle Mordecai who raised her as his daughter. Although she had the blessing of someone to love and care for her, unexpected loss is a path not willingly chosen by anyone and leaves room for deep grief.
Unmet expectations can easily be a source of grief. Your family may not look like you planned. You may be waiting for a child and after months and years, the calling placed in you has not yet been fulfilled. Or you may be parenting a child who has been broken by someone else’s sin and yet you are the one dealing with the consequences of their grief and trauma. The days are long and it can be messy and challenging much of the time; the complete opposite of the life and family you envisioned.
But my friend, to be chosen for such a task is humbling as we have the unique privilege of taking part in a miracle. It is a holy calling. One set apart for those, like Esther, whom God knew He could entrust to carry out His will faithfully “for such a time” (Esther 4:14) in the life of that child.
Adoption and foster care often mean living daily life in the trenches leaving the family no luxury of a 30,000-foot view of the situation. This is where families must cling to their faith. Esther would not have chosen to life without her parents but God allowed this journey, a reminder of His sovereignty. He saw the bigger picture and the people who would be rescued because of her position in life.
It is normal to start the adoption and foster care journey with expectations of what it will look like, but just like everything else in life, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV). Our prayers should focus on seeking God’s will and how we can play a part in it.
3. Mary and Joseph
Mary was a young girl whose life calling would change the world. You see, before the angel Gabriel visited her, Mary likely had a plan for what she thought her future would look like: marriage to a good man, children, security and a place in her community.
But her plans were disrupted. In a single moment, a word from the Lord changed everything. Being a young Jewish girl, she stood to lose everything. Even those closest to her might not understand and reject her. She had every reason to fear and question. And yet she replied, “may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, ESV) Mary gave a surrendered yes fully trusting the Lord was with her.
Joseph faced the same challenge and ultimately embraced God’s plan, adopting Jesus, fully accepting and loving him as his own. This wasn’t his plan either, but like Mary, Joseph gave God his yes and obediently fulfilled the calling placed on his life as Jesus’ earthly father.
God gave Mary a great task because He knew her heart and that His will would be fulfilled through her obedience. The same is true for adoptive and foster families. Your surrendered yes is part of God’s disruptive and messy plan for you and for that child.
Even with Grief, Adoption is Part of God’s Bigger Story
Moses lived the first 40 years of his life separated from his biological family before returning to lead Israel out from slavery.
Esther risked her life to advocate for her people and ultimately saved them from destruction.
Mary and Joseph surrendered expectations for their life and family to raise God himself clothed in flesh.
From creation, we are reminded that God is writing every single one of our stories and this includes children you may be longing to foster or adopt.
It can be easy to grieve a family not yet completed or a part of your story that hasn’t turned out as you planned but, as you walk the adoption or foster journey remember these lessons from the scriptures:
- God creates families.
- God is writing your story.
- God’s timing is always right.
- God’s plan is always good — even when it doesn’t make sense or others don’t understand.
If you are waiting for that child to come home or working desperately in the trenches to bring healing to a child entrusted to you, remember: “for nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, ESV) and “the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28, ESV)
I had no idea what it truly meant that day I put my ‘yes’ on the table but I wouldn’t trade a moment of the ups and downs. You see, our Heavenly Father is parenting us just as much as we are parenting our kids. Just as we are called to step in and embrace the orphan, God steps in ready to embrace us and receive our tired hearts and minds when the journey wears us down. He is ready to grieve alongside us as we are faced with the brokenness surrounding the stories of the children we’ve been entrusted to love. He promises us in His Word that He is near to the broken hearted. (Psalm 34:18)
When adoption and foster care ceases to be about fulfilling your longing for a child and becomes about contributing to the beautiful story God is writing in the precious lives placed in your care, that my friend is where joy is restored and grief begins to heal. No matter where you are on your adoption or foster journey, keep praying, keep believing, keep showing up and keep that yes on the table trusting that God has great things in store for your growth and the good of your family.
Somer Colbert is a writer, speaker and host of the Love Where You Are podcast. She founded Ahavah in our Hearts Ministry with weekly podcast episodes and resources to help Christian women identify their gospel influence, love boldly and share Jesus where they are. Somer resides in Arkansas with her husband, three kids and three dogs, forever changed by walking multiple adoption journeys. Connect at somercolbert.com and IG @somercolbert.