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.
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.