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An Orphan Spirit

Growing up in a loving family was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. As a child, I never doubted that I was safe or that my basic needs would be met. I was free to grow and explore without ever having to battle fear or shame. When I hit adolescence, everything changed. The world aro…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Growing up in a loving family was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. As a child, I never doubted that I was safe or that my basic needs would be met. I was free to grow and explore without ever having to battle fear or shame.

When I hit adolescence, everything changed. The world around me became a strange and unfriendly place. I began to regularly feel insecure about how small I was and a hundred different ways that I compared unfavorably to my peers. The halls and locker rooms at school became unsafe. Daily I felt exposed and unprotected.

Now as a man looking back on that scary phase of life, I’m thankful for the experience. It helps me to understand from the inside out how orphans feel all the time. And it helps me understand how a lot of people who were not orphans, but who have an orphan spirit, feel.

An orphan spirit

What is an orphan spirit? Maybe you had two parents who raised you, but you grew up in an unsafe family and had to learn the lesson, “No one is going to take care of me in life, so I better take care of myself.”

People with an orphan spirit learn to not trust others. Unable to protect themselves as children, regularly exposed to pain, they make the inner vow, “I will never suffer like that again.” And so they go through life fighting the battles they lost in childhood over and over again.

Having an orphan spirit makes you doggedly self-sufficient and hard to love. When someone fails you, there is no grace. You push them away and cut them off. “Better to not trust – I can’t risk getting hurt again,” you think.

We see this behavior in some inner-city youth. If you begin to get close, you may be surprised to find yourself pushed away. Knowing you will probably fail them or reject them, they beat you to the punch.

Attachment Disorder

We are made to connect with and bond to our parents. They meet our most basic needs – initially food and protection and nurture, and over time, our needs for belonging and esteem. When we bond, we form an emotional attachment.

That bond or attachment is essential for our development. Take it away and children grow up with a gap or a hole in their soul – attachment disorder.

Children with attachment disorder typically have a low EQ (emotional quotient). They can even become anti-social. That need that never got met becomes a nagging ache that is the source of habits that define them for the rest of their lives.

God the father adopts us

If you look inside and sense an inner orphan hiding in the shadows, what do you do? Most people do nothing. They assume that rejection and insecurity is normal and live life defensively.

The antidote to an orphan spirit is to see over and over again that your needs will in fact be met, and so begin to change the neural wiring in your brain.

The orphan’s expectation is that he’ll be hungry. His response is to grasp and grab. But lessons learned in childhood can be unlearned.

The good news is, no matter how our parents may have messed up, we have a Heavenly Father who loves us and wants to adopt us into his family. We may not feel as though we fit, but the reality is, God promises rescue. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still,” he said to Moses when he was in dire straits. And he says the same thing to us.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still!

He loves you like a son or a daughter. He wants you back. He wants to adopt you into his family. But you’ve got to stop doing his work for him. Stop fighting those old battles over and over again. Let go and embrace your sonship. The work has been done.

Do you know someone who has an orphan spirit? Or do you sometimes feel that way yourself? Growing up in the midst of trauma is tough.

We need to cut one another a break as we seek to impart and embrace the grace that God gives to his children.

Comments (14)

  • Seth as always this is stellar in terms of insights…vulnerability…practical assessment of what an “orphan spirit” may look like…all surrounded with a triumphant view of God’s redemptive power. In my fifties I’m still working through some of the matters you elucidated. A military home…incest..frequent beatings…trying as a kid to stand between a raging dad and a loving mom…I get what “unsafe” feels like and am thankful for the long and winding journey to wholeness. I’m not there yet. But like we remind each other in Twelve Step meetings the manta is “progress not perfection” and everything is lived out “one day at a time.” Thanks for the way you sow the seeds of truthful reflection into the loamy ground of those who yearn to bear fruit. This Franciscan brother loves you and is thankful for now 31 years of knowing you. Pax Christi.

  • After reading this I finally understand why I react to people the way that I do. My mother is the same way, only worse. We tend to give people one chance to hurt us, even a perceived hurt, and we’re done. No grace. No second changes. No explanation of why we won’t communicate. I have grown up with the thinking that this is strength. God forgive me. God please change me.

    Thank you, Seth. I enjoy reading your posts so much. You constantly challenge me and bless me with your insight.

  • Thanks, Butch. In weakness and vulnerability we are set free.

    We’ve all of us felt like an orphan at some point and all of us have struggled to break free into a place where we can live in abundance.

    We can’t re-live the past, but we can create a future where we help our own children live in a place of hope and generosity of spirit.

  • what would you suggest for someone who does have an orphan spirit? i have a particular person in mind. i love this post and would love more resources (books, podcasts?) that address the issue.

  • God bless can you help me if i want to take care of a child from the other country want to take her what should i do

  • This year for the first time I planted grafted tomato plants in my garden. Much more expensive initially but, according to the nursery helper, they are sturdier and produce a greater yield.

    I was thinking this morning of how the Gentiles were grafted onto the Branch of Israel and the rich meaning in that, in light of the above.

    Just pondering how orphans, grafted into the Family of God, can become strong and sturdy and capable of great yield.

    It is a wonderful thought to ponder…

  • Yes. And crisis thinking. ..

    God, I have discovered, is in no hurry to accomplish His purposes. He takes all the time He needs and gives us all the time we need. Rejecting crisis living and learning to rest in Him and His love for us is the key. It takes some of us a long time to reach such a place of rest. He waits…in love.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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