The Valley of Vision in Adoptive Parenting

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"Healing does not happen in therapeutic techniques, methods, or interventions. Healing happens in relationships. The best therapist your adopted child will ever know is you, their adoptive parent." Loryn E. Smith, MSW

This past weekend, my wife (Christy Waulk), and I attended a one-day adoption seminar with Loryn Smith, of Finally Home Christian Adoption Services. The event was very encouraging and informative for us, both as biblical counselors and adoptive parents.

Aside from the wealth of trauma-informed, practical parenting advice imparted to us all by Loryn, it was wonderful to see adoptive families together, investing in what it means to love their children well. It was a great joy to take in the sights and sounds of adopted children playing and laughing together in such a warm and caring environment.

At the heart of the day's presentation was the topic of attachment. In her book "Attaching in Adoption," Deborah Gray defines attachment as, ". . . an enduring relationship formed over time and experience, almost always in the context of a family" (p.17). In concert with Loryn's presentation, Gray's definition places relationship at the center of what it means for adoptive parents to attach to their adopted children.

Attachment, and the relationship from which it flows, is in one sense the sine qua non of healthy, successful adoption in any family. It is the thing for which every adoptive parent prays, and the thing about which every adoptive parent attends an adoption conference, seminar, or reads a book.

That human connection that cannot be made at the level of DNA for adoptive families, emotional and spiritual attachment, can be sought after and shaped supernaturally at the level of the heart, the essential part of us all, invisible to the human eye and imaging studies, yet spoken of repeatedly in Scripture as of first importance (1 Sam. 16:7).

Trauma is Our Context

During her excellent presentation, Loryn said, "Attachment happens at the height of conflict." That is to say, every adopted child has suffered trauma and loss to one degree or another, therefore, even the very best of adoption placements will face the obstacles that trauma brings in the pursuit of healthy attachment. Conflict, as Loryn described it, forms and informs the path to becoming a well-adjusted and attached adoptive family.

As Loryn framed out this reality for us, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite books, one which we use and recommend frequently in counseling for encouragement. It's called "The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions." This book gets its name from the first prayer listed, titled "The Valley of Vision." This prayer reads:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold
Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter
Thy stars shine;

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

I thought about this prayer because of the forward-facing, eyes-wide-open way in which the author, unknown to us, acknowledged and embraced the reality of suffering in the Christian life. Yet, it was not by any stretch a pessimistic or fatalistic embrace, but a hopeful submission to their Creator God and Heavenly Father who would redeem the valleys of life, and at their bottom, grant a type of spiritual vision not found any where else.

As adoptive parents, we understand that we enter into the sufferings of our adopted children, past, present, and future. Loryn reminded us that we are God's appointed ambassadors in the lives of our unique and sovereignly placed children (that is, we have the children God intended for us to have). While we are not anywhere promised an easy course, we know that we will never walk that course alone, but have the resources of the kingdom of heaven, as adopted children of God, ourselves (John 16:33; Gal. 3:26).

The Gospel is Our Hope

Loryn's encouragement to us, that we pursue relationship with our adopted children above all else, was perhaps the most important piece of the day, in my estimation. We were instructed on critical issues pertaining to child brain development, and the various ways in which trauma effects and manipulates this majestic and mysterious organ of the human body (which does not complete its development until age 25, by the way).

We love our adopted children well when we educate ourselves concerning the physiologial effects of trauma upon our children, effects which for many of them began in utero, and which influence their capacities for relationship and attachment.

But, it is possible to understand these important issues yet "have not love," and thus become to our children little more than "clanging cymbals" (1 Cor. 13:1). In this way, as Loryn reminded us, the journey into attachment will teach us that we as parents are, in fact, the most important piece of the puzzle (aside from Jesus, himself, of course). What I am saying is this: Our willingness to change and be changed for the good of our children is of paramount concern.

Will we embrace or reject the course set before us by our sovereign Lord? Will we allow the struggles to sanctify us and purge us of our own self-centeredness (a thoroughly biblical view of God's purposes in suffering for his adopted children), that we might learn to rely upon and rest in Christ, to whom the practice of earthly adoption points?

In his book, "Surprised by Suffering," R.C. Sproul wrote that to follow Jesus is to walk the Via Dolorosa along with him (p.16). God's way, Sproul wrote, was and is the way of the cross. In a similar fashion, we imitate this way with our children when we bear their burdens, and as we do, we point them to Calvary (Gal. 6:2).

Perseverance is Our Way 

As it turns out, suffering becomes to us and our adoptees not simply a matter to be avoided or navigated away from, but provides the context and platform out of which, by God's grace, a wonderful story of redemption might flow. Understood from a biblical perspective, suffering is indeed a means of God's grace in our lives and the lives of our children, even as we mourn with them all that they have endured.

In the end, our adopted children are like all who suffer in that they will want to know that the traumas they faced were not void of meaning, purpose, and value. As Christian adoptive parents, we have the high privilege of showing them Christ over a lifetime in the context of their individual stories.

For those of us who are in a place of suffering with our adoptees, struggling to connect and wondering if any of what we are carrying will ever make sense or be redeemed, take courage. It is in the deepest wells of our adoption journeys that we will see, sooner or later, the stars of heaven shine bright.