I remember when we moved out of our house to remodel the downstairs after experiencing a water leak. In the process, I was forced to confront one of the more unwelcome tasks of moving – cleaning out the pantry. In doing so I discovered that we had somehow collected enough random cans of food to survive for months, if not years. That was, of course, if we didn’t mind eating Spaghetti O’s that expired the same year my six-year olds were born! I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had more than a few expired food items lining the shelves.
As I look back on our adoption journey and I listen to the challenges of other adoptive and foster parents, it occurs to me that many of us view compassion for our children in much the same way as we would that old can of Spaghetti O’s. The honest truth is that for many of us, our compassion for our children – for the trauma and harm they suffered, the pain and loss that flows from their past and the lingering effects of their history – has an expiration date. All too often we think in terms of “they’ve been home for six months…they should not be doing that still” or even “they’ve been home for five years…they should know better by now.”
Trust me, I understand these thoughts. I’ve had (and still sometimes have) them myself. But here’s the problem – unlike the food in the pantry that eventually goes bad or the milk that spoils, my children need parents whose compassion always stays “fresh.” What I’m learning is that compassion – true compassion – does not have an expiration date. This should come as no surprise. We see it in Scripture over and over again. The Lord is “full of compassion,” His “compassion never fails” and His “mercies are new every morning.” And looking to the example of Jesus, we see his heart of compassion for those he encountered, especially the suffering and the lost.
Just as we are loved by a God who is compassionate and whose compassion does not fail, we must also be willing to approach our children with compassion in each and every moment. Not only when they first come home, but also years later when some of the fears and behaviors “still” have not yet disappeared.
This is what Dr. Karyn Purvis refers to in The Connected Child when she encourages parents to make compassion their touchstone. I’m learning that compassion is essential to faithfully walking the adoption or foster care journey precisely because it is essential to me connecting with my children. Far from pity or even mere sympathy, compassion is a response of genuine love in action as I learn to see my children’s behavior for what it is, even as I never lose sight of how truly precious they are. It is what sustains me as I meet them where they are time and time again, and as I gently take them by the hand and lead them away from fear and toward trust, healing and connection.
So let me encourage you to check the expiration date on your compassion. Like me, you may find that yours has expired. But the good news is that we are loved by a God of grace whose compassion for us is new every day. No matter where you are in the journey, it is not too late to start again and to renew your love for your child with a compassion that will last a lifetime.
To read more about compassion and its importance in connecting with your child to help him heal, read Chapter 2 (Where Your Child Began) of Created To Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child.