Adoption: The good and hard lessons

June 16, 2017

We recently marked several months of being home with our son who was adopted from the tiny south African country of Lesotho. He is full of life and has a huge personality. He laughs uncontrollably sometimes at things around our house, like when we told him our dog was being a “pill” and the way his dad calls his sisters “chick-a-dee” and “sweet pea.” Watching him figure out how things work and seeing him do things that are very much African (you should see him eat an orange) makes our hearts smile. After having lived and worked as missionaries in Africa, we love having a little African son in our house.  

While he has brought much joy and energy to our house, our short time as adoptive parents has brought on a number of other emotional responses—many of which we were unprepared for. Adoption has become a popular topic in Evangelical circles in recent years, and praise God for that. While there are many implications in Scripture that we take seriously, orphan care is an explicit expectation for the Christian, and it’s often been ignored by the church. Unfortunately, however, with the rise of popularity has come a parallel rise in romanticism regarding adoption. Like marriage, often portrayed in media as the meeting of two perfectly suited individuals who spend the rest of their days in wedded bliss, adoption can take on mythical proportions among some Christians, and if they are not careful, they can enter or support it without fully taking stock of how difficult it can be.

With as much joy and laughter as he’s provided us, our adoption has also been equally taxing on our family. We knew it would be tough. We knew the dynamics of our family would change. We knew there would be tears. No amount of preparation, though, could adequately ready us for the reality of bringing an independent, strong-willed, 10-year-old boy who has no framework for how a family works into our home. A recent devotion we read for adoptive families said,

Counting the cost in terms of adoption requires the disciple of Christ to recognize that children without families are not perfect children who simply need a home. They arrive with baggage. Ugly stuff. You will not be starting with a clean slate at Ground Zero. You will be climbing up to Ground Zero for a really long time . . . the bonding alone can be as taxing as building a 12-ft tower with toothpicks and a glue stick. It’s an all-embracing venture. It will be challenging emotionally, physically and spiritually.  

Yes, yes and yes. Adoption is not for the faint of heart, and if we can be honest, our heart has been faint at times. We are grateful, moment by moment, for the grace of Jesus who holds us together, because there have been some really hard days. We are grateful for Christ and his Word, along with our friends and family. These have been our support system. Without it we cannot imagine undertaking adoption. With that said, and acknowledging that we are not far into our adoption story yet, here are a few things we have learned about the adoption process, both good and bad.

First, we had to radically restructure our entire family’s schedule. At the recommendation of the adoption therapist we saw at the international adoption clinic we use, we are taking everything very slowly with our son. We are used to keeping an extremely busy schedule, and we’ve had to scale way back. This doesn’t mean we don’t participate in anything, but we are being selective in the activities and places we go right now, for his sake.

This adjustment has been hard for our family. We’re doing our best to keep a highly structured and predictable environment for him at home. Consequently, as our adoption clinic reminds us, a “boring” life provides an immense amount of security and safety for him. Even the little bit of “going” we do tends to exhaust him, and he’s always ready to, as he says, “we go home.”

Second, we limit interaction with people outside of our immediate family. As strange as it can seem, adopted children can act outgoing and affectionate with strangers in a way that is not always healthy. The bonding process (him feeling “attached” to us as his parents) can be long—and perhaps even longer because he was an older child when he was adopted. For a typically outgoing family that is used to regularly having people in our home, this has been a tough transition.

These limitations can have a difficult effect on friends and family who may struggle to understand. Our son has had birthday invitations, play date invites and so on. We’re anxious for him to get to do these things, but for right now, he’s still trying to figure out how to function in a family. Keeping him in a familiar environment is what’s best for him. We regularly say “no,” which is hard, but important for his (and our) adjustment.

Third, communication is a primary challenge. He is learning English more and more every day. When he is safely at home with our family, it can seem like he can say quite a bit, and he can and does talk quite a lot. However, while he understands a good bit more English than he can speak, he doesn’t have the ability yet to quickly process and provide answers.  Many questions at a time overwhelm him, and we Americans are good at asking 20 questions at a time. This communication barrier can create frustrations and challenges when we are in social situations. What’s more, the emotional and mental strain on him as he tries to communicate, and on us as we try to understand and interpret, is no small thing.

Make no mistake, we don’t adopt because it’s hard or good. We adopt because it matters.

Fourth, discipline can leave parents overwhelmed and unsure. Finding a pattern of discipline is a significant challenge. Like every child, he will occasionally need correction. Due to difficulty and trauma in his past, that discipline has to be provided in a careful, loving context. What’s more, his response can often be equally challenging. Our son, in particular, will pretend to be “asleep” (which seems to be his coping mechanism when he is stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed). Providing correction that he understands, that is loving and that helps him understand what needs to change, while affirming his place in the family and that our love cannot be changed by his behavior, is a unique and stress-inducing responsibility.

Adoption is the hardest thing we have ever done. It’s tougher than living in the bush of Africa with no electricity and running water in 100+ degree weather or following God to 13 different addresses in 16 years of marriage. Adoption is hard. But the Lord is good, and he continues to teach and reveal more of himself to us through this child who sometimes doesn’t want to be loved by us, who may resist our kisses, attempts at hugs or wanting to put our arm around him.  How much more does God love us when we resist him? There’s so much of the gospel in adoption, and we want to live it out well.  

As hard as adoption is, it’s just as good. It is amazing when our son leans up against us, slips his arm through ours and lets us hug him. Or when he prays at the dinner table, in his newly-learned English. Or when he and his sisters laugh uncontrollably as they play together. But make no mistake, we don’t adopt because it’s hard or good. We adopt because it matters. We adopt because we have been adopted. We adopt because a little boy did not have a family, and now he does. As we adopt, there are good days and, at least early on, there are many, many difficult days, but we are encouraged by Christ, his Word and our church community. And that is enough—even (and especially) when we don’t know what to expect.

Learn from Micah and Tracy Fries and other speakers at the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.

Micah Fries

Micah Fries (pronounced Freeze) is the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Prior to serving at Brainerd, he served as the Vice President of LifeWay Research in Nashville, TN and as a frequent speaker in churches and conferences. He has served as a Senior Pastor in Missouri and an international … Read More

Tracy Fries

Tracey Fries is the wife of Micah, and mother to three children.  Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24