I love being let down. I’ve started relishing the realization that I have to relinquish what I thought a given outcome would look and feel like and embrace what it really is. After years of “casting visions” and soft-lighting all things future, and the subsequent deflation when nothing measured up to my expectations, I began to notice that, if I got past my disappointment, the reality of the situation was actually better and far deeper than what I’d originally planned.
For instance, for as long as I can remember, I’ve talked about martyrdom. Jim Elliot was my hero. I loved to be the guy preaching about the virtue of self-sacrifice. In my mind, it had a gloss to it, a fine veneer that made it appealing. The idea of being a “mini martyr” in your everyday life sounded ultra-spiritual, magical, and deep. Oh, the hubris of the young. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child…” It turns out that suffering and self-sacrifice really end up taking a lot out of you–everything, actually! Who knew, right? I guess that’s why the rest of the quote goes, “…but when I became a man, I put away childish things”.
No matter how inspirational I thought it would be to die to self, when it really came down to it, I don’t think I had truly considered that that meant I actually had to die, and death is never pretty or comfy. Initially, when I was suddenly faced with putting someone else’s needs over my own desires, actually “willing the good of the other”, the photoshop was stripped away and I’d find myself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this.” But, as life played out, and I realized that on the other side of the pain was purity, after the Cross was the empty tomb, life took on a much more exciting tone.
Whether it was finding that marriage really is “where bad people go to die” (Fr. Mike Schmitz) or discovering that I was a first-class heretic, the underlying truth and reality was always a worthwhile trade-off. The false, self-centered view of the fulfillment that marriage would bring me was piffle compared to the actuality of what it means to place my all, my hopes, dreams, and body in the custody of my wife and give myself up for her. And, in my opinion, the tempest of autonomy that Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide bring about are on par with an 18-month-old taking the wheel of an 18-wheeler, when compared to the joy of coming home to the permanence and security of the Church.
Which brings me to the title and purpose of this article. Even before we were married, my wife and I knew we would adopt siblings internationally. We’ve always been vocal about our desires to adopt older siblings, specifically because they were of the least adopted demographic. “Leave the infants to the others,” we said, “We’ll take the ‘least of these'”. For the first ten years of our marriage, that was the extent of it for us–talk. It never seemed to be the right time, regardless of whether we were at home or abroad.
Then, we moved to the Caribbean island of Dominica (pronounced da-mi-KNEE-ka) so that my wife could attend medical school. Prior to moving, we had zero inclination that we would adopt; however, about two months after we arrived, we both began to feel like we should at least look into the process here on Dominica. As we followed the tug on our hearts to investigate adoption, we felt that familiar surge of excitement, the one that says you’re about to do something adventurous and inspiring. In my mind, the wide camera shot had slowly zoomed in on my wife and me as we spent moments in fervent prayer, our hearts alive with expectation of children who would twirl into our arms with abandon, their mouths filled with well-articulated gratitude. “When I was a child…”
Not that there hasn’t been quite a bit of that so far, but we are quickly discovering the beautiful and exhausting fact that there is no gloss to real life. Nor should there be. On the other side of the supposedly-inspiring “Guess what Nic and Jacelyn are doing???” is sleep deprivation, needless trips to the capital city, personality conflicts, paperwork hang-ups, unforeseen delays, sleep deprivation, thousands of dollars, hours of phone calls, stonewalling by embassies, and lack of sleep. What sounds spiritual and refreshing turns out to be physically depleting. What you’d hoped would be a corny made-for-T.V. movie (or at least an after-school special) turns out to be more like a 5-hour jr. high production of War and Peace, starring no one you know.
The gorgeous and illuminating part about it, though, is that I would honestly have it no other way. Not only is it a nice way to try to enter into the perseverance and pain of childbearing and childbirth (with the man getting to bear a some of the load in this case), but it is also a great way to strip away the misconceptions and delusions we’d had about what adoption actually is.
This is where it all hits home. Paragraph 1129 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.” It is an unfathomable, humbling, and precious fact that, as Christians, we were adopted into the actual family of God and that nothing can “separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:39). However, lest we be tempted to gloss that fact over with a sheen of ease and comfort, paragraph 1129 reminds us that it is the “sacramental life” that brings about participation in the divine nature, and the sacraments exist because of our sin and His suffering on the cross.
Essentially, the need for adoption exists because we’d first sinned and left the divine life, and the option of adoption was made possible once again by Jesus’ willingness to say, “Still, not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Since being adopted into God’s family, I’ve caused many sleepless nights, many unforeseen delays, and done my share of stonewalling on the road to purity and completion, but my Family has not failed or deserted me. My brothers and sisters have not disowned me. My Father and Brother have continued saving me.
I love being let down. I enjoy finding out where I’ve been wrong. By being open to my own errors, I’ve found a depth and peace in marriage that I never imagined was possible, an anchor in the Catholic Church, and a deeper understanding of my adoption into God’s family. May all the saints and angels pray that we be open to smudges in the veneer, because, as far as I can tell, when we allow ourselves to be let down and humbled, we find out about true exaltation. (Lk 14:11)