In a recent Time magazine interview (Nov. 23) Katrin Himmler was asked if she, like the descendants of other notorious Nazis, felt it was best not to have children so the name would die out. I found her answer interesting:
Other children of perpetrators in Germany have decided to do that. But for me,
that’s a continuity of how the Nazis thought—that everything is defined by blood
lines. Genes aren’t everything. You can always make your own decisions.
Katrin’s great-uncle, Heinrich Himmler, was responsible for the plan that resulted in the death camps and murder of over six million Jews. Her decision to have children and not change her name took courage.
As a father of four adoptive sons, I too believe, “Genes aren’t everything.” I believe in love—and have tried to give a lot to my sons. Like Katrin, I believe we can all make our own decisions. Most importantly, I believe in the grace of God and transforming power of Jesus Christ: salvation, new birth, redemption, cleansing, and becoming a new creature.
For Christians adoption is prophetic. Our adoptive love speaks prophetically that the child is more than his genes, that his choices matter, and that if he chooses God, grace will flow into his life and free him to be all God has created him to be. Many adopted children today know their birth family and parents—in some cases read about them the newspaper. So it is natural for them to wonder how much of who they are is locked into their genes. Sometimes as they get older, this question creates a tug-a-war between the genetic past revealed in their birth family and the spiritual future prophesied by their adopted family. In this struggle adoptive parents hope that “love never fails.”
Of course, all love, if empowered by God, is prophecy. When we truly and unselfishly love others, we see not just what they are, but what God is redeeming them to be. By the Spirit, we glimpse their future in God. But since adoptive parents aren’t looking for Mom’s eyes or Dad’s personality, we feel more keenly the responsibility to help the child become the person God has created them to be. We are always trying to see them through God’s eyes, and then help them see themselves as God does.
This may all sound easy and spiritual. It is hard. Adoptive parents must keep their hearts pure and free of ego. When we adopt a child, we aren’t getting a blank slate on which we can write all of our dreams. The child we adopt can never become our project. (I suspect this is true of all children.) Our actions and words must always speak love and grace to the child, but we are often in the position of simply watching them discover their identity in God. We can never impose it on God’s behalf.
Like most prophecy, adoptive love is an invitation—one that can be accepted or rejected. God invites all Christians to look into His Word and discover their identity as His children, born of His Spirit. But this invitation does not require the negation of all our genes have made us because every person is created in the image of God with unique gifts and callings. Genes aren’t everything, but they are something. All a child has inherited spiritually and genetically—even if from Himmler—can be redeemed by God’s grace and cleansed by Christ’s blood. Every adopted child that abides in Christ becomes a beautiful picture of what God’s grace and power can do, or could have done, in the lives of their birth family. God redeems our genes.
Like most prophetic words, adoptive love needs to be spoken with perseverance. Other words will compete. And during the teenage years these other voices can almost drown out the voice of grace. Being adopted, no matter how loving the family, often means a child will struggle with insecurity and personal identity. In the midst of this uncertainty, the world’s voice can sound quite convincing as it invites a teenager to anchor his worth in sex, alcohol, drugs, or peer-approval. Some adopted teenagers may be tempted to define themselves by the successes or chronic failures of their birth families. An adopted child’s rejection of our prophetic invitation into God’s purpose is especially painful for adoptive parents because it often feels like a rejection of us as parents. Like all wounded parents, adoptive parents must seek their healing from God and guard their hearts from bitterness or despair.
Through all of these tribulations, adoptive parents must prophetically speak who we believe God has called our child to be. Our responsibility is to faithfully extend the invitation—we cannot determine the response. The decision of the adopted child matters. All prophetic words are tested, and we must persevere in speaking even if our words are anointed only with our tears. Sometimes we prophesy with words—more often with open hearts and homes: always with tenacious love.