There was a time when I was growing up that I wished I had been born to a biological family who would have raised me with biological siblings, in a culture-rich family where I wasn’t different or, at the least, didn’t feel different than everyone. I can pretty well assure you that most adopted children feel the same way to some degree or another. We didn’t have any choices, especially if we were adopted at a young age, but that doesn’t prevent us from asking some hard questions, at least at some time in our lives.
There are times when we are confronted with bare facts that are simply hard to swallow. Because we’re not God, because we cannot see the end from the beginning, and because we do not possess perfect wisdom, we may find it difficult to understand circumstances in life, especially other people’s lives. To be honest, this doesn’t just pertain to adoptees … anyone whose life has been challenged by sinful choices of parents and family members wishes things could have been different. Obviously, this leads to wondering why they weren’t.
In essence, infants have no choice into what family they are born. We have no ability to choose into what culture we are born. Neither do we have the ability to choose the era into which we are born. Our life circumstances simply are what they are. Not by personal choices, but by God’s sovereign design for purposes that are often beyond our ability to readily or easily grasp.
During our early years, we grow in knowledge whether or not our life circumstances are difficult. A child born to a family whose lifestyle is less than desirable will obviously have choices to make as he grows and sets the course for his own life. He can follow in the footsteps of his parents or he can choose to overcome his past and change the course of his life. It is these choices over which each individual has control. In many cases, it is our day-to-day choices that lead us in a path away from all that we perceive as undesirable for our future. But, the memory of our past will always play a role in our future life choices, responses to circumstances and even how we interact with friends and family.
Someone who was raised in a highly dysfunctional home will many times choose to try to make himself better, to rise above the negative influence of his past, and strive to make a better life for his own offspring. There are those, however, who choose to allow their unfortunate upbringing to set the course of their life and lead them down the path with which they are most familiar, creating a new generation of dysfunctional lives.
But, there’s another angle to this that cannot be overlooked. God often allows difficulties in our lives in order to produce an opportunity to bring about healing and strength and even freedom from the chains that bind us to our past. In other words, the challenges we face during our formative years will, if we make good choices, influence us toward freedom from all that holds us back. A look at Jim’s life will help us understand better.
Jim was raised by a single mom; his dad showed up occasionally to get drunk with mom while all their kids were left unattended except for the outbursts of drug and alcohol-influenced anger leading to physical and verbal abuse. Jim learned at an early age that when dad showed up, there would be trouble. He hated what his mom allowed to happen to him and his younger siblings, but if he even mentioned it, he was called a liar and became the victim of unrestrained punishment.
By the time Jim was in his mid-teens, he had been labeled as a trouble-child. With very few friends, he grew angry and abusive, not only to himself but to his younger siblings and others who dared to try to get close to him. He knew no other way of life. By the time he was 20, he had already spent time in jail for alcohol and drug abuse amidst other charges. His destiny was certain … he would be a carbon copy of his own biological father, have children with a girl much like his own mother and continue the cycle of substance abuse introducing yet another generation of highly dysfunctional children.
Several years had passed that were almost like replaying a horror film of his own upbringing. He had lost any hope he may once have had of things ever changing. Jim became suicidal because he refused to consider any other choices — it just seemed too hard to change though he really didn’t want to.
Ending up in the hospital with a bullet wound from a brawl at the local bar, he had a life-changing experience. A social worker who visited him left him with some reading material. But, before he left that morning, he asked Jim if he could pray for him. Reluctantly, he agreed. The words this nameless saint spoke have never left Jim’s memory because they opened to him a life he never thought possible. During that 10-day hospital stay, Jim made some life-changing decisions. Tucked away in one of the small pamphlets left behind by the social worker was a clear and easy-to-understand explanation of God’s plan of salvation. With tears streaming down his now sober face, he prayed the sinner’s prayer.
While we would like to think that Jim was transformed in the blinking of an eye, it wasn’t like that for him. It took work. With the help of that saint who stopped in to see him in the hospital, he began to make progress. No longer drinking. Free from drug abuse. Yet, he was still rough around the edges. He had already come so far that he couldn’t see what others saw — a man difficult to accept as an equal among peers. Unfortunately, the others included church members who should have been there to encourage. Instead, they reminded him of his failure to conform in every manner to what was perceived as a holy lifestyle. He literally felt as if they were heaping coals of condemnation on him for every flaw they saw rather than rejoicing with him for the milestones he had already achieved. While Jim desperately wanted to be a part of the community of believers, he was met with rejection — one obstacle after another — because he still had hints of his dysfunctional upbringing evident in his life. The big demons had been conquered, but those who stood in judgment only saw the superficial impurities.
Determined to not to give up, Jim worked hard on growing close to the Lord, constantly doing Bible studies. He sought out Christian teaching and remained determined to grow to the point that he was accepted as an equal among the believers. Sadly, it took a long while until he realized that the very reason God allowed him to be born into a family like his was for a reason that even those in his fellowship were unwilling to acknowledge. God had a purpose for Jim that literally set him above so many others because his heart had already been crushed. He had been broken — shattered into pieces from the time he was born into this world. When God began putting the pieces back together, the change became real and the more Jim grew, the more he desired complete wholeness, a prayer God would never reject or fail to answer.
Today, Jim’s heart is burdened for the outcast, the broken, the wounded. He’s become a man God uses mightily because Jim’s choices in life include a level of surrender that remains firm and committed. As he encounters others who are hardened because of life’s circumstances, he quickly remembers the feeling of being considered a useless human being while unquenchable compassion rises up within his own heart. He easily reaches out and embraces, whether simply through prayer and intercession or through personal interaction, those who are walking along that dark and lonely path of void and emptiness brought about by their past–a past over which they’ve had no control.
Is Jim perfect? Of course not! To the outsider looking on, they will see a man who still has some remnants of hardness that have been engrained in his personality from an infant. To those who have no desire to look beyond the shell of the man named Jim, they see someone who willingly carries his past on his shirtsleeve. They don’t realize that that which they see in him has become his trophy of a battle well fought and a victory well won with the power and strength of the Holy Spirit as the Word of God has been engrained in his heart and the healing process continues.
Does Jim have a choice to become fully free from the influence of his dysfunctional upbringing? Perhaps the better question is would Jim want to be free from influence of his past where there are no trophies to display pointing to the powerful work God has done in his life? If you ask Jim, he would give a resounding No! Why? Because He wants everyone to know how God has brought him out, transformed his heart, set his feet on solid ground, and made him a vessel He can use to lead others out of darkness into His marvelous light!
Jim’s choice of families into which he was born were not his to make. How God chooses to use him is not his choice, either. Some life choices rest in the hands of a sovereign God who glories in our uniqueness as we influence those whose lives are destined to be impacted by us. Jim walks where they walk yet he wears the trophy of Victory because of Jesus and His power to forgive, deliver and transform.
His story may seem long and perhaps uncommon, but Jim is a prime example of why we cannot stand in judgment of those who may not fit our idea of what a Christian looks like. While Jim knows he still has areas in his life that are still under the Master Potter’s construction as his heart continues to be transformed, he also knows that every step he has walked in this life has been full of purpose. His choices have made it possible for the glory of God to be manifest in him and through him, and visible to others who are waiting for an unplanned visit that begins the process of putting the pieces of their shattered heart together, making them a vessel of honor to God, just like Jim.
May God continue to be with Jim … may God also continue to deal with those who fail to see the heart of those who are being transformed daily by the Word of God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who leads us to victory! Amen.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us triumphantly
as captives in Christ and through us spreads everywhere
the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.
2 Corinthians 2:14
© Jan Ross
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