November 15, 2013

Things People Say to Adopted People

Being a pastor, I have a front row seat into people’s lives both good and bad. I rejoice with them in good times and weep with them in times of sorrow.

Photo Credit: ST33VO, Flickr
I’ve comforted a lot of people as they have received news of everything from a death in the family to a diagnosis of cancer. 

With all of these tragedies, I can safely tell you that I have never said things like:

“Just rest in the fact that God knew what He was doing, and planned this…”

“Let's stop focusing on this. Just think about Jesus' love.”

“If you truly accepted God's love, you wouldn’t struggle with this.”

“If only you knew your identity in Christ, you wouldn't feel this way."

“I’ve had deaths in the family and they never bothered me.”

“I’ve experienced loss, but felt no need to grieve. Why do you feel this way? My cousin experienced loss too, and it never bothered her.”

“I received a diagnosis too, but I know God planned it for me, for my good.  He picked my diagnosis for me, and I choose to focus on that.”

"I choose to focus on God, not my loss." 

"Think about the people in the Bible who went through this..."

"My family is gone too, but I look to the future, and refuse to be upset. God is sovereign."

“I'm a Christian speaker and writer. I lost my whole family too. But it doesn't bother me because I know my identity in Christ.  I've written a book that tells you how you can feel the same way and come to the exact same conclusion as me!"  

No. No. A thousand times no.

What kind of pastor, or Christian would respond like that?

When people experience loss, we would never say to them what people say to the adopted -- those who have experienced what is perhaps the most profound loss anyone can experience, the loss of their entire first family. 

There are those who think this is no big deal, because adoptees get a second family. Think about what you would say to a friend whose husband dies. Do you say, "No biggie. You're getting a second husband..."???

Of course not. 

Your friend still experiences a profound loss, whether they marry a second husband or not. And many who remarry will tell you -- they are forever changed by the loss of their first spouse, no matter how amazing the second one is. 

The Christian response to adoption loss is particularly disappointing when it should be the most compassionate.

The general population doesn't respond to the adopted individual as those who has experienced trauma, loss or grief. Instead they treat them as one who should be doing the proverbial happy dance.

Adoptees are the only people-group in society who are expected to be thankful for tragedy.

Many Christian leaders, speakers, authors, etc. take this posture -- engaging in what is known as spiritual bypass, which actually causes further trauma. If you have never read this post about spiritual bypass, with therapist Bonnie Zello Martin, MEd, CACS, LCPC, I beg you to do so. 

Christian therapists are growing in their understanding of the trauma associated with adoption.  Did you know that it is common for adoptees to experience PTSD? Even those who were adopted from birth, experience this.

Having one’s feelings dismissed on this issue can cause compounded grief. If you are a Christian and particularly one in a position of leadership, I caution you to be very careful to never dismiss the feelings, experience or stories of the adopted.

Before you tell an adoptee to just “stop talking about it and turn it over to Jesus” or “quit focusing on the past and move on,” or “God planned it for your good…” or sermonize on the sovereignty of God, please stop and ask yourself, “Would I say this to a person who had just lost their entire family in a car wreck in one day?”  

If you wouldn’t say it to someone in another situation commonly recognized as trauma and grief, please don’t say it to the adopted.

p.s. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to also read Things People Ask a Christian Out-of-The-Fog-Adoptee, at Lost Daughters.