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Adoption, generosity, and the kingdom

Last Advent, my wife, Elisabeth, thoughtfully shared a bit of our adoption journey, while reflecting on what it means to wait. She quite rightly pointed out that St. Elizabeth’s reception of the “gift of a baby was never simple, but what child truly is?” Indeed.

The waiting period in our adoption turned out to be shorter for us than for many. Our daughter was born in early May and has lived with us since that day. We share in the joys and challenges of a happy, healthy three month old.

Around the time of her birth, I was leading an adult study of Tom Wright’s Virtue Reborn (2010; published in the United States as After You Believe). In reflecting on Jesus’ extant but still partially obscured kingship, Wright comments:

The whole point of God’s saving rule, as Jesus understood it, is that it is the saving rule of this God — the God of gentle, generous, overwhelming love, whose kingdom-way was already articulated in the Sermon on the Mount — it cannot be established by force majeure, but only by its proper means: suffering, and self-giving love. (Virtue Reborn, p. 98, emphasis original)

Wright’s certainly not making a new claim here — the above could have been written by Yoder, Hauerwas, or numerous others. Still, our relationship with our daughter’s courageous biological mother made Wright’s claim come vividly alive in our own lives. Christ’s kingdom-way of the Sermon on the Mount cannot be established by force majeure, only by suffering and self-giving love.

Adoption between two sets of consenting Christian parents (as was our experience — a particular but not uncommon situation) uniquely requires all the adults involved to refuse to engage their various recourses to brute and potentially totalizing force in pursuit of the little part of God’s kingdom built by the adoption.

Specifically, laws are written with the noble intent to grant birth mothers wide latitude in avoiding unwanted adoptions. At any moment, our daughter’s mother could have simply ordered us to pack our bags and leave, never to see her again. But on the other hand, most often, adoption is between adopting parents of greater means, education, influence, and legal and bureaucratic acumen and birth parents with less worldly recourse. So, through a variety of ways of making the system work for us, force majeure was an option for us as adopting parents as well. And last, but not least, there is almost always some collection of attorneys, social workers, and/or adoption agencies involved — all of whom have significant sway in the process and financial motives toward particular outcomes.

And, at the center of it all, is a human person — a baby — whose life would be radically different however this worked out.

I should note here — unlike many other stories — our adoption story is one where no one ever resorted to the significant force available to them. Rather, we all prayerfully, tearfully, carefully, and, at times, painfully moved toward this adoption. Such mutual restraint from force enabled this event to be plainly and obviously one of God’s own kingdom, where adoption is a dream for God’s people (Romans 8:23).

From time to time, Elisabeth and I think about how we will continue to tell our daughter her birth story. We’re grateful it is one where we get to tell her about her incredibly brave and faithful birth mother, where we tell her of the sacred trust we have been given, and where we can point to God’s kingdom on the move. If it had been any other way,[1] her story would be tremendously different.

But it’s that distinctiveness: The fact that her story, while not without pain or sadness, is categorically good news, that taught me, again, the truth of Wright’s claim. God’s kingdom will never look right if we try to bring it about by brute force — in fact, it won’t be his kingdom at all.

The featured image is “Holding hands” (2011) by Aaron Bilson. It is licensed under Creative Commons. 

[1] Sometimes, admittedly, adoption stories simply must involve the use of force, such as those situations where the state must pursue the removal of a child from dangerous birth parents. Such is the reality in a fallen world. Another blog post for another time by someone with that experience could be about how redemption works and God’s kingdom comes in those situations.


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