What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘orphan?’ A waifish, poverty-stricken child like in Oliver Twist? Or maybe it’s the sad, pleading eyes of a hungry little one in a far away country. What about that face looking back at you in the mirror? Could you have the heart of an orphan beating inside you and not even know it?
We were all born with an orphan heart. Every last one of us, to some degree or other, has come into this world and lived our lives from a place of abandonment, rejection, and isolation. When we accepted Jesus as Savior, we were grafted into the family of God, fully adopted with the same birthrights and inheritance that His firstborn son received. But speaking as an adoptive mother of four children, I can tell you that just because you are loved and adopted doesn’t mean you will automatically stop living like an orphan.
Where Your Identity Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also
How we choose to live and function is a product of how we view ourselves, and how we view ourselves—as an orphan or as a true son or daughter of Father God—is a matter of identity. And it’s not just part of our identity, but the core of it, the foundation upon which all the other facets of our identity is built. Depending on our personal history and where we stand in our relationship with God, we may know intellectually that we are a son or daughter. We may even be able to speak that out loud and believe it at a surface level. But often in the deepest places, in our spirits, we identify with the orphan. The orphan identity, the orphan heart, the orphan spirit—however you want to label it—will inform and affect every aspect of what we think and do. It will manifest itself in a variety of traits such as:
- poor attachment
- over attachment
These are just some of the afflictions or symptoms we experience when we live with an orphan heart, but they aren’t the foundational conditions. I believe there are four foundational conditions, or ‘chambers’ of an orphan heart:
- Soul Loneliness:
I will never forget the night, about ten or twelve years ago, when it was my turn to lead a young women’s Bible study. I thought it would be interesting and meaningful to discuss a topic relevant to all of us and explore what God said about it in His Word. After our opening prayer, I looked out on the circle of smiling, expectant faces of my friends, and said, “Tonight, I want to talk about loneliness.” Immediately several women burst into tears.
What is it about loneliness?
That clawing, nagging, aching emptiness we carry that is so present and constant, that no matter how deeply we try to bury or suppress it, the mere mention of it can dissolve us on the spot? I’m convinced that it is one of the primary conditions of the orphan heart. Let me explain why.
We were created by a triune God; three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who are in perfect, inseparable communion with one another. We were made in the image and likeness of Him who embodies deep relationship at His core. Think about that. We are made in the image of the One who is Three—the One who is family, friend, and community all within Himself.
We were created to share in that communion, so that our whole being (body, mind, soul, and spirit) would function within and be perfectly satisfied by direct, intimate relationship with our Creator. Heartbeats and breathing in sync, whispers from spirit to spirit unhindered by outside forces, love flowing freely through open, unbroken channels to and from the Father…that kind of communion. Isn’t the thought of it deeply satisfying? It’s what we were made like and it’s what we were made for!
Adam and Eve enjoyed this kind of relationship with God until they were persuaded by the serpent to believe that something better was out there that God wasn’t giving them. And that very day, the spirit-to-spirit connection they were born with died a permanent death. With that death came an enormous void, a soul loneliness we were never intended to have.
2. Restless Wandering:
There is the persistent feeling that no matter what we do or where we are, no matter how good life looks on the outside, we cannot escape the unsettledness on the inside. Along with this is the lack of inner peace and contentment, and the feeling that there must be something more, better, or different elsewhere that will alleviate our quiet angst. You don’t know what you are searching for exactly, but you’ll know when you find it–so you keep searching.
This sort of restlessness makes commitment difficult and unpleasant, focus and drive hard to sustain, and solitude or quiet too painful to bear. It can drive us to aimlessly fritter away hours on the Internet or at the mall, to lose ourselves in shopping or eating, into fantasy or casual intimacy, or to a whole host of other things. It’s like consuming imaginary food in an attempt to satiate a real and persistent hunger.
My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have allowed them to go astray. They have wandered around in the mountains. They have roamed from one mountain and hill to another. They have forgotten their resting place. –Jeremiah 50:6 NET
Shame is another cornerstone in the foundation of the orphan heart. You might even say it was the first stone laid in the foundation, as we revisit what happened when Adam and Eve took their first bite of fruit: “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves” (Gen 3:7 NLT). I have always thought it was interesting that their shame response was to their nakedness and not to their disobedience. Shame often points its finger away from the truth and at something else, perhaps so we fail to deal with the root cause directly.
It hides quietly in dark corners, but when when triggered, it speaks loudly and with vengeance. It is a usurper, a liar, and an oppressor, keeping the orphan heart from experiencing the freedom, joy, and identity in Christ we were designed to have. It tells you who you are and how life is, and bullies you into submission. It always aims to keep the other chambers of the orphan heart in check, and as Carl Jung once observed, “Shame is a soul-eating emotion.”
The fourth chamber of the orphan heart is fear. Fear, like shame, entered on the scene at The Fall, at once shackling mankind in bondage to the enemy of our souls. Also like shame, fear paralyzes, incapacitates, and makes us feel powerless over our circumstances and ourselves. It is a powerful component not only in the makeup of the orphan heart, but also in keeping the other components active and in place. In other words, it can be difficult to really address the loneliness and restlessness we experience if fear (or shame) is not addressed and removed.
Attacks of fear can be bold and uncontainable, like panic attacks, or they can be subtle and manageable, yet equally effective in holding us back from all we can be or do. Fear can reduce any of us to a childlike state—weak and vulnerable, exposed and helpless. It can also numb us or provoke us to disengage from whatever makes us feel something we don’t want to feel. Ultimately, what we fear we become subject to–and fear is a very cruel master.
So there you have them: the four chambers of the orphan heart. Does this sound like you? This definitely was me a couple of years ago. But I’ll tell you, the good news is that we have not been left to suffer this condition permanently. I’ve since received a heart transplant of the very best kind–from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
…I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. –Ezekiel 36:26 ESV
I know I have only touched upon a very big, very deep subject, and it will take further exploration and explanation to work our way through; to lead our orphan hearts home to the Spirit of Adoption. But if you find your heart pounding now at a brand new revelation, don’t be discouraged…there is a cure for this condition. The Lord has taught me some valuable steps in this process, and I am excited to share them with you as we go further on this road together.