Recovery and Redemption After a Failed Adoption


This post, written by Joshua Waulk, originally appeared at the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

A failed adoption presents the Christian family with an emotional trauma that is at once a crisis of faith and an opportunity for the gospel to expand the borders of belief.

In 2009, doctors told my wife and me that my cancer treatment from several years prior left us unable to conceive. We were shocked and dismayed at the news, but once we gathered ourselves spiritually and emotionally, we trusted that God intended to grow our family through adoption.

With the passage of six years and an outpouring of God’s grace on our home, we recently completed our third domestic adoption, doubling the size of our family in that time. God has graciously allowed us to experience on earth temporally what is true of all His people eternally.

In adoption, God gets the glory and we get the joy.

Dreams Crushed and Hope Fulfilled

Our adoption victories, for which we are grateful, have come amidst times of great pain. We learned in practice on several soul-crushing occasions what we knew in theory. No earthly adoption is final until a circuit court judge declares it so.

We reasonably believed on three separate occasions that God was guiding a child into our home so that we might become their “Forever Family.” These occasions came to a screeching halt and left us reeling. One moment, we were changing diapers, feeding a hungry babe, and swaddling an infant; the next, we were being excused from that same child’s life—forever.

We may never know what a literal miscarriage feels like, but we have an idea. The loss we experienced through infertility was multiplied by each failed adoption and the loss of a hoped-for child.

In the days following our failed adoptions, it was important that my wife and I rally around each other and seek God’s face. It is one thing to believe in God’s sovereignty; it is quite another to bump into it in the context of pain and suffering. When all you want is to adopt a child and provide them a home, there are no words that satisfy the soul-shaking question of why God would say “No.”

Pressing On toward the Goal

Our hearts hurt when we see this play out in the lives of other adopting families. We know their pain. We also know their hope. After they have taken the time to grieve, we desire to see them reconnected to their adoption journey as they learn to walk by faith and not by sight. This will not be the final outcome for every couple, but we pray that most would not give up. Waiting children have no voice if God’s people retreat.

Here are three concepts that my wife and I learned through these difficult times:

1. Acknowledge the pain.

When we experience a trauma or crisis, we are tempted to deny the truth of the matter and isolate. While a certain period of “cocooning” is understandable as you grieve, avoid the temptation to isolate entirely. Confess your pain to God, seek Him in prayer and in the Scriptures, and allow trusted friends, family, or pastors to minister to you. Scripture: Psalm 6:6.

2. Embrace the hope.

A failed adoption will always be experienced as a type of loss. After you have grieved, and when you and your spouse are both ready, embrace the hope that a failed adoption is not necessarily an end to your dream. Trust that the God who loves the orphan and created adoption has a good and perfect plan for your family. It is a sweet and bitter providence of God when He teaches a waiting couple to say, “That was not our child.” Yet, we avail ourselves of God’s loving kindness and wait for the ones that by His grace will be grafted into our homes. Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:7.

3. Prepare to move.

Once you and your spouse have together embraced the hope for adoption that is yours in Christ, pray for the child that you were once planning to adopt, release them to God’s capable hands, and begin praying for the child He may bring at just the right time. This is a difficult step because it feels nebulous—how do you pray for a child you have never met? Trust that God is sovereign, and that He has your adoption journey well in hand. We hope in things unseen. Finally, remember that when God commanded Abram to move, he did not give Abram the exact coordinates of what would become his final destination. Instead, God simply commanded, “Go out from your land…to the land that I will show you.” Scripture: Genesis 12:1; Hebrews 11:1.

Blessed Vulnerability

One of the cruelest realities an adopting family can come to intimate knowledge of is that adoption is often the necessary result of life in a broken world. The final stories of adoption are often so full of joy that we can be tempted to forget that by adopting we are following the command of God to love the orphan by entering their loss, which most likely began with the loss of their birth family. When we do this, when we make ourselves available in this way, we enter a place of vulnerability. Yet, it is a place of blessed vulnerability, even or perhaps especially when we become somewhat acquainted with the orphan’s pain.

Theologian Sinclair Ferguson has powerfully said:

“Be obedient even when you do not know where obedience may lead you.”

Dear grieving family, through your obedience, you will recover, and God will redeem these painful days.

Join the Conversation

If you are an adopting family, how are you preparing your hearts for the possibility of a failed adoption?

If you are a family grieving a failed adoption, how are you finding hope in God’s commitment to the orphan as a basis for the hope that is within you?

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