This piece is adapted from an article in The Geneva Courier recently published.

I often tell students that parents should not have favorites when it comes to their children. We look at Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel to see how favoritism works out! However, parents should definitely love their children differently. At that point, 7th and 8th grade students’ head tilt – “What?”

Stating the obvious, our children are unique and we all know there is no “cookie-cutter” method for raising them. One child requires merely a glance of disapproval before a melt-down of repentance and remorse sets in. Another hardly flinches under harsh corporal punishment. One child thrives on words of encouragement, while another only wants (and needs) to be held and hugged. They are each unique, so the parental trick is how we love them each according to their needs.

Again like the biblical narratives, things get more complicated with foster-, step-, and adopted children. Mary and I often say, “We have 8 children: some home-grown, some hand-picked.” Such life-situations remind us, like almost nothing else, that love – in every relationship – is a choice more than an emotion. Our modern world has lost the plot, often portraying love as merely a feeling that comes and goes. The biblical picture of love begins with an intentional choice to love followed by a covenantal commitment to continue that love . . . regardless of circumstances and feelings. Paul says, “He [God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5).

But seriously, this is an incredibly important topic and applies to stepchildren, children from a second marriage, adopted children, foster children, and the list goes on. And I love that in our Geneva community, we share life together with so many families who live out all these kinds of parent-child relationships.

I am confident you agree with me that adoption is a precious theological concept because we, followers of Christ, are all adopted children. All of us, in our lost estate, sought desperately to be good enough to be saved, loved, and accepted into a spiritual family (whether we realized it or not at the time). And God, in His infinite mercy, lifted us out of our misery and slavery to sin (our orphanhood), and gave us His name and brought us into His family. So earthly adoption, as imperfect as it is, points toward and reminds us of this profound truth. And earthly adoption is far from perfect, beginning with the unsettling truth that each of us as parents – saved and connected to Christ though we may be – remain needy sinners ourselves.

God’s love for those who are not naturally his children can also be seen in our (admittedly imperfect) ability to love children not naturally our own – we become living and breathing day-by-day illustrations for our perfect Heavenly Father. As a father to naturally born, adopted, and foster children, my parental imperfections poignantly remind me of just how loving, gracious, and patient my heavenly Father is with me, a stumbling and too-often rebellious adopted child.

I am also reminded that when we adopt children, over time they begin to “adopt” our ways which initially are foreign to them. Over time they recognize our voice and even to mimic our words, our slang, our mannerisms. So also, the longer we live and walk with our heavenly Father (hopefully), we learn to hear His voice and we increasingly mimic His ways and adopt His manner.

To love an adopted child is a risk. When we think about it, loving anyone is always a risk. Russell Moore, in a blog-post entitled “Don’t Protect Yourself from Adoption,” recently wrote, “If you wish to avoid the risk or possibility of being hurt, do not adopt a child. Do not foster a child. Do not engage in ministry with orphans or with widows or with the sojourners or with the poor. Do not have children, in any way. Do not get married. Do not have any friendships. Hide under the bed, and hope for the best. Any human relationship brings with it the possibility of deep hurt. You can protect yourself from that possibility, but only by walling yourself off from love” (see the whole piece here: Paul Simon sang it differently in the 60s: “I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” To love is to invite pain into your heart.

Again, think about our heavenly Father and what His adopting us cost Him – the humbling limitation of taking on flesh, the insult of rejection, the weight of sin, the pain of torture and death on the cross – all so that He could bring us into His family. And I know that even after many years in His family, I continue – regularly – to disappoint Him when I rebel or misrepresent Him through the decisions I make in my life. Yet His love for me remains constant, unchanged, firm. It’s the way He is . . . and it’s the way I should be as well.

I love seeing Geneva families love their children well, through whatever difficulties our children create. Parenting is a risky calling and I deeply admire all who enter it. I love that so many of our families have adopted children in some sense or another. That is indeed a special calling. May we all love our children for the beautiful creations they are. May we think deeply about how our Father has given us the model of love that we might imitate. And may we continue to pursue Christ’s calling as parents as we love our children – whether they are naturally born to us, adopted by us, step-children brought to us, or foster children with us for whatever time God allows. May God give us much grace as we aspire to imitate Him.