My husband and I have a prodigal.
She came to us when she was nine, and left us just before her eighteenth birthday. We were certain (and still are) that God brought her to us. She was alone in the world. A literal orphan. Her mother died when she was six. Her father was incarcerated. Her extended family couldn’t care for her. I noticed her because of her beauty — impossibly huge brown eyes, a wavy chestnut pixie cut that framed her innocent face, and a confident countenance that defied her inner turmoil, a turbulence birthed through years of trauma and abandonment. It didn’t take long for God to show us that she belonged in our family.
In the months before bringing her into our home, we progressed through a gauntlet of meetings, trainings, and cumbersome processes meant to sift the parenting chaff. After passing muster, we brought our daughter home and adopted her.
New and Crushing Chaos
To say it was a challenge would not begin to describe the nine years that followed. Countless nights of tantrums and aggression, pervasive deceit, manipulation, stealing, running away, and destructive behavior. Mayhem was the norm. Police and social service investigations became part of our regular existence. Marriage-crushing stress overran our home. By the end of the nine years, divorce was an impending cloud ready to sweep away what was left of our former life.
Still, along the way, our chaotic existence was peppered with hope, as we were given glimpses into the girl we knew that our daughter could become. The best of these came on the last night of Christmas vacation, when she was twelve years old. After a particularly aggressive episode that lasted long into the evening, our daughter suddenly became repentant. Sobbing into my husband’s chest, she allowed him and our older daughter to pray with her, and she voiced her desire to follow Christ. We were elated.
Our daughter was happy and cooperative for several weeks following that exhausting and joy-filled night, but she eventually fell back into the pattern which is so typical of trauma-ravaged children.
Searching for Fruit in the Wrong Trees
We are certain that God brought our daughter to us. We adopted her and loved her as our own. She had full access to all that our biological children have. She is ours. We gave her our name and a place in our family. We poured nine long and difficult years into her life, often sacrificing the needs of our other children. Time, resources, and stamina were nearly exhausted by the time she had left. But the fruit we were sure we would see never materialized.
We had failed.
What — we wondered — was God thinking?
In the months since our daughter left, my husband and I have questioned whether or not we had heard God correctly all those years ago. Our recent conclusion is that we may have been looking for fruit on the wrong tree. The obvious reason for adopting a child is their salvation, both physically and, for the Christian family, spiritually. But God doesn’t often deal in the obvious. I could list a myriad of reasons that God put our daughter in our life.
The fruit we had so hoped for could very possibly still be a tiny seed, or a shoot that is planted in some distant forest waiting to give shade to someone who has been touched by our story. Maybe it was on the tree of our marriage, or our sanctification, or our daughter’s journey toward Christ. What was God thinking? I have no idea. We thought we were so sure, but “who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Romans 11:34). So our question was all wrong. Not “what was God thinking,” but rather, “what does God say?”
God Is Still Good
We know without a doubt that God is good. We know that he loves us, and that he has a perfect and trustworthy reason for having brought our prodigal into our lives and turning our existence on its head.
How do we know this? Because of what he has said in his word. And we believe him. We have no choice. We have been laid bare. So in looking for answers, we breathlessly declare with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).
God’s word is the only answer to our questions about God’s intentions for our lives, and the only source for searching for his light when darkness encroaches. God’s narrow road is not easy. Christ’s telling us his burden is easy and his yoke is light is not a promise of a stress-free existence here on earth. It is a promise that he will lift a burden we don’t need to bear anymore, our sin. It is a promise of a future glory and of provision in the midst of trials today.
When you carefully study God’s promises and take him at his word, a beautiful narrative begins to form. After listening to God’s voice in the Scriptures, my husband and I have concluded that though we have spent nine of our thirty-four years together in utter stress and chaos, and though our marriage nearly ended, and though our child is lost to us today, God is still good. He still loves us, and Christ’s burdens, indeed, are lighter than anything we can experience in our temporal lives.
The burdens of life overwhelm us with the weight of the world. The suffering of Jesus Christ offers us the far greater “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
The Bigger Story of Adoption
A beautiful narrative has formed since our daughter has come into and gone out of our life.
God created us (Genesis 1:27). He is with us, his love quiets us, and he sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17). He hasn’t guaranteed us an easy life, but promises that he has overcome the world (John 16:33). He loves us to death (John 3:16). He wants us to rejoice in him, he will provide us abundant peace, and he will supply our every need (Philippians 4:19). He wants what is best for us, and works for our good (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28). He will comfort us in our need (Psalm 23:1–6; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4). He is completely trustworthy (2 Samuel 7:29; Psalm 9:10). He hears us when we speak to him (Psalm 31:22). He has accepted us as his own children (Galatians 4:6–7; John 1:12). And he will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4).
For some reading this, that last statement might provoke protest. Our daughter left in a flurry of hostility. We are grieving that loss, reeling from the failure. It seems we did not get what our hearts desired. But through this trial, we have discovered that God’s promise to give us the desire of our heart if we delight in him often yields something unexpected. When we delight in God, he leads our hearts to desire him. Jesus Christ becomes the first and greatest desire of our heart.
Suddenly, no matter the hardship or trial or disappointment, God’s grace in the giving of Christ is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). He lavishes on us his love, his comfort, his protection, his provision, and his peace. They are all unfathomable gifts, but our heart’s desire is to have him and him alone.
God holds our future. That is a trustworthy saying. We have been assured in his word. We know that whether or not we ever see our daughter again, whether or not she ever truly believes in God, whether or not she continues to reject us and him, God is good. And he is enough.