The importance of recognizing loss for adopted children

Making our homes safe places for grief

May 29, 2019

Adoption is a beautiful thing.

As a Christian, I can attest to that as I consider my own adoption into the family of God through the blood of Christ. As an adoptive mom, I can attest to that as I’ve watched our son thrive and bring joy to our family. As a member of a church with a thriving orphan care ministry, I can attest to that as I see the beauty of James 1:27 walked out before my eyes every day.

But adoption isn’t only beautiful; it is also painful. We know that many families face hardships through adoption. These hardships are worth it, of course. Those of us who have adopted would do it again in a heartbeat. But I’m not talking about the pain an adoptive or foster parent faces. I’m talking about the pain an adopted child faces.

The gain and loss of adoption

I recently came across a video by adoptee Shareen Pine and read an article she wrote for the Washington Post from 2015 titled “Please Don’t Tell Me I was Lucky to be Adopted.” I found both to be incredibly helpful in putting words to the loss that adopted and foster children experience. Yes, it is true that children adopted into loving families are very fortunate. But it is just as true that the very reason adoption was necessary was because these children experienced something tragic: the loss of or separation from their biological family.

It is the longing of every child to grow up with their biological mom and dad. To know from whom they got their long legs or eye color. To enjoy the biological elements that unite them to their family. To be able to trace their lineage back to great-great grandparents. Children who have experienced the miracle of adoption have also experienced the loss of biological family ties. That is a real and profound loss, one we need to recognize, value, and grieve alongside adopted children.

My son carries the DNA of another set of parents, a man and a woman with a lineage as deep as my own. But that lineage has been severed due to a combination of circumstances of life in a fallen world. And though he’s too young to care, I can already feel the weight of what has been lost. And one day, he’ll feel it too.

The loss an orphaned child faces is most apparent when I consider how I prayed for my children before they were in my arms. When I was pregnant with my first two children, my contemplation of them was free of angst. As I prayed for them, they were safe in my womb, right where they were supposed to be. But as I prayed for my son before he was home, I grieved. He was not where he should be. He was not being caressed and nursed in the arms of his mother in those first weeks and years of life. Instead, he laid in hospitals and orphanages, without a parent to fight for his rights and health. All was not well. Stepping into adoption meant stepping into that loss.

As I do paperwork for our next child, I often pray for him or her. But my prayers are full of mixed emotions. I’m excited for all God has for us and for them, but I know the reason they will be available for adoption is because they have suffered greatly due to no fault of their own. As I grow in my excitement to welcome him or her into our arms, I also grieve the circumstances of his or her entrance into this world.

In her article, Shaaren Pine shares:

“I sometimes imagine what my life would have been like if I had had [my daughter’s] confidence. If I had felt safe enough to claim my story and the pain of being an adoptee. If I had felt secure that I could share it openly. And if I had believed people would support me when I did. I probably wouldn’t have wished to die so often starting when I was 11. And I probably wouldn’t have started cutting myself when I was 12.”

Not every adopted child will grieve the loss of their biological family the same way, but every adopted child will feel this loss. And it doesn’t serve them well for us to ignore that reality. Instead, we need to be prepared to give them safe places to process, to talk, to lament and grieve. Yes, they have gained something great, but part of that greatness is the safety and security of a home where both sorrows and joys can be shared.

Helping our kids work through loss

So, how can we do this as adoptive parents?

First, we can acknowledge the loss. We can recognize that something very painful has happened to our children. In age-appropriate ways, we can find ways to speak of birth moms and birth dads. To give our kids language to talk about them, to pray for them, to wonder about them, and to grieve their absence.

Secondly, we can grieve with our kids. A grief born alone can be overwhelming and debilitating. But a shared grief can be endured. The grief might not hit them until they are in junior high or high school but, when it does, we can be ready to stop and sit in the sadness with them so they aren’t alone. Grieving with someone simply means recognizing something valuable has been lost forever. A good comforter doesn’t try to fix the pain or paint over it with something else (“But look at how God has turned it all for good.”) It may be true that God has brought good from the pain, but grieving means acknowledging the irreparable loss and being sad about it. A good comforter embraces the tension of the moment and doesn’t shy away from it.  

Lastly, we can ask questions. Questions such as, “Do you ever think about your birth mom or dad?” or “What do you wish you could tell your birth parents?” Most children will hesitate to speak of biological family because of fear of disrupting the loyalty, security, and unity they enjoy in their present situation. So asking questions about their biological family or country of origin can let them know, “This is a safe place to bring your fears, hurts, questions, doubts, and sadness.” We are serving them by setting the table for a difficult conversation so that when they are ready to share, they have confidence that we won’t run away but will lean in and listen.

Remember, the miracle of adoption was first birthed in the heart of our God who “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). How did he adopt us? Through Jesus Christ. To secure our adoption, God put on flesh, bore our burdens, carried our griefs, and made them his own. As we seek to imitate our eternal Father in earthly adoption, let’s be sure to do the same. Our children need burden bearers and grief sharers. We can be that to them because Jesus has been that to us.

Kelly Needham

Kelly Needham writes a blog at kellyneedham.com. Kelly met her husband, Jimmy, at Texas A&M University in 2005. At the time, he wanted to be history teacher, and she was getting her finance degree. Within a year and a half, they had married, graduated and Jimmy released his first CD … 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