On Adoption and the Giving of Covenant Signs
Children who come from hard places need continual and sustained signs of their security and place in a world that threatened to leave them as orphans. In learning to parent these precious lives, we are given a glimpse into the needs of us all as adopted children of God, as well as his covenant-keeping faithfulness.
This is one way to express two key thoughts I'm developing for my final research project on the way to earning my Doctor of Ministry degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The focus of my project is the development of a biblical framework by which to encourage adoptive parents in their task of attachment to their adopted children. This project isn't exclusively for such families, but it is being developed with them in mind. I do hope that others will find aspects of the project useful.
Although I've been ruminating on this topic for a little more than a year, the truths of the matter were made a little more clear for me just the other night when our third child, Liam (4), repeated to me a request that has become over time an assumed and unavoidable custom. Liam has grown to love when I lay down with him at night just before his bedtime. Perhaps some of your children have a similar routine.
"Daddy, will you lay down with me and help me get to sleep?"
In that moment, what became more apparent to me was the nature of Liam's oft-repeated request. I could express his ask in this way:
Daddy, I know that you love me, and I know that you've laid down with me at bedtime so many times before, but today, right now, will you yet again give me a sign that reaffirms your covenant promise to me, that you will be my Daddy, and that I will be your son, forever?
Some of you will immediately recognize my play on God's promise in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:7-8). In this pivotal moment in redemptive history, God gave to Abraham, a pagan and spiritual orphan living in a world of false gods, the Covenant of God's [Immeasurable] Grace.
By extension, that promise was made to all who, along with Abraham, would receive it by faith alone (Heb. 11:8-10). What's more, I believe that this covenant, with all of its redemptive contours, becomes to us a tool that sheds light not only on the nature of our adoption as sons in the Son (Rom. 8:15), but also a foundational rock upon which we begin to learn how to parent our adopted children.
Searching for Signs
In his infinite wisdom, our heavenly Father knew what we would need for our sanctification, maturation, and growth in our faith in him. He both knew and created us to be as children to him who are redeemed and adopted as children of the promise.
Knowing our frailties, which include a propensity to doubt, worry, and fear about our status as sons and daughters when the storms of life howl, the Father gave to us means of grace that he intended to serve as ongoing and sustained signs and seals of his great love for us. These "ordinary means of grace" include the preaching of the word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer.
As recovering rebels and spiritual orphans, these means of God's grace become to us types of spiritual anchors that weld us to God and one another as a family that we call the church. Properly understood, we come to understand that these means of grace, and particularly the sacraments, aren't "mere memorials" or primarily acts of service that we perform to God, but signs given from heaven to us on earth that remind us of the certainty of our Father's saving, and certain adopting love.
As adoptive parents, if we stop to consider the emotional, spiritual, and relational needs of our adopted children, we will see shadows of ourselves in them, and we will begin to appreciate afresh their ongoing request of signs of our love for them, as well as the gracious giving of God's covenant-keeping signs to us all.
In his 1541 edition of "The Institutes," John Calvin, in the chapter on the Lord's Supper, wrote, "Most certainly believers ought always to observe this rule: whenever they see the signs which God has ordained, they should be sure and perfectly persuaded that they are accompanied by the reality of the thing signified."
The "thing" of which Calvin wrote was none other than our participation in the body of Christ, that is, the church. And that participation comes to us uniquely within the Covenant of Grace, by faith alone. Calvin knew that the God of the Bible gave his adopted children the means of grace for their edification, not as add-ons, but out of necessity.
Adopted children, whether earthly or heavenly, require, desire, and benefit greatly from ongoing, sustained, and repeated signs and seals of the covenant love that led them out of fatherlessness.
Loving as He Loves Us
These simple thoughts have revolutionized for me two things: the importance of the means of grace to me and my family as adopted children of God, and the importance of the requests for signs of our parental love for our adopted children.
On the journey of adoption, attachment may be considered of paramount importance. The signs we give, not once, but repeatedly, will in the long run serve to seal in the hearts and minds of our children the trustworthiness of the promise we have made to them, to be their loving parents, and they our beloved children.
For us as adoptive parents, we can take great courage that despite the difficulties which our families may face along the way, we have a framework by which to understand our task. That framework is rooted in the Gospel, and we have the blessing of learning from our heavenly Father in this gift as adopted children, ourselves.
There is much more to this conversation than one blog post can provide (hopefully, my final project will flesh this out substantially), but I hope this post serves to introduce and encourage adoptive parents (and all parents, for that matter) to think freshly, biblically, and covenantally about the task and goals of attachment.
Join the Conversation:
1. How does this post encourage you to think differently about the role of the means of grace in your walk with Christ, and your role as an adoptive parent?
2. How does this post encourage you to think freshly about your adopted child's request for or need of signs of your covenant promise to be a loving parent to them, and to receive them daily as your covenant-adopted child?
3. How can your incorporation of "signs" of your covenant love for your adopted child nourish and enrich their souls, for their increased security and sense of belonging within your family?