Do you remember the first time you entered an orphanage? Maybe the first time you saw a picture from a friend's mission trip? I remember it in vivid snapshots. I remember the empty blacktop and the beat up playground, a few faces hiding amongst it all, and then a crowd of small strangers surrounding me, reaching up, making foreign sounds. I remember this very specific, very tangible feeling of deep love and care for every one of them. Something I had never experienced, especially for people I hardly knew. Do you remember that feeling?
After a while I realized that what appeared as their instant love and affection, and our instant connection, could be more accurately defined as longing. Something that they felt and I sensed. Longing for protection. Longing for family. Longing to belong. I wanted desperately to be able to meet their need, fulfill the longing. But I soon had a strange realization. That same longing that I saw in them, was inside of me too. Longing for approval. Longing for affirmation. Longing to belong. It took me 3 years of living among those who I pitied as orphans to realize that I, also, was an orphan.
It took months on my knees to realize that I had still not fully understood my identity as a son of God. I realized I was actually not made to receive praise from others, but to only receive affirmation from my Father. I was not made to soar and sink with the tides of my emotions but to stand joyfully and confidently on the rock of my salvation through every season. My Savior’s motivation for going up on that cross was not to rescue a terrible sinner, but to reveal a beautiful son and to reunite him with his family. True sonship, eternal adoption. I was welcome at my Father’s table, I belonged there, and that was all that mattered.
We are drawn to the orphan and to the vulnerable in part because deep down, we relate to them. They are the physical manifestation of a problem every single human, regardless of their family situation, deals with. The orphan spirit, as a result of the fall, weighs heavy on all of us. Do I really belong? Am I really loved? We know that scripture dispels this notion and assures us of our sonship in Jesus. But we also know that it is the strategic plan of the enemy to get believers to profess with their mouth that they are sons and daughters of the King, but never believe it in their spirit. When we live with an orphan spirit, we live insecurely and we look to others, instead of the Father, to determine our value and worth. We live fearful, needy, and in constant tension.
This issue becomes even more complicated when an orphan spirit is what informs our work in orphan care. If we are living from a place of insecurity in our identity as sons and daughter, our efforts to alleviate the cry of the orphan will come from a place of striving. If we’re honest, we will be simultaneously trying to meet their needs as well as fulfill a deep longing and desire within ourselves. We will create a culture of wound-licking instead of a culture of healing and revelation of true identity. We will find ourselves in a vicious cycle of trying to meet physical needs and create success stories, but we will never feel like it’s enough. Neither will they. The best orphanage in the world can raise a child for 18 years but send them back into the world an orphan, if that child was raised by spiritual orphans. The best adoptive parents in the world can feed, nurture, protect, and educate a child with excellence but fail to model what it looks like to walk out our identity as true sons and daughters.
What we often don’t realize is that when the voice of God declared over Jesus “This is my son whom I love, with him I am well pleased” it forever destroyed the notion that the word “orphan” could even exist in the context of relationship with the Father. In society, there are orphans. That’s at least the term we use to describe children who come from broken family structures. But in Jesus, there is no such thing. Think about that moment in Mark 1 for a second. Notice that it’s in chapter one, not fifteen, that God declares his satisfaction and pleasure with his son. Before the miracles, before the healings, before the teaching. God was satisfied in Jesus because he was his son, not because he created a successful ministry. Jesus lived from a place of being loved by the father, and his actions were always informed by that reality.
If we don’t start from a place of recognizing our standing as sons and daughters that please the Father just by nature of who we are, we will constantly perform and strive and meet the needs of the orphan in order to feel worthy of the belonging that has been offered to us freely through the cross. Equally as destructive, the nature of how we are caring for the vulnerable will not lead them into true understanding of their identity in Jesus. They will look to us, not Him.
Fighting for the cause of the vulnerable is one of the most important yet challenging tasks of this generation. But it takes followers of Christ who really know who they are, who are confident in their sonship. When orphans lead orphan ministries, you end up with some good strategies and some excellent programs, but no eternal fruit.
Can one blind person lead another? Won't they both fall into a ditch?
Our primary testimony, whether we work in orphan care or not, is simply to live confidently in our identity as children of God. Only then can we invite others into that reality. Beyond meeting physical needs, we must teach that the only true sense of permanent, lasting, secure belonging is found in Jesus. And to effectively teach that, we must first understand it and believe it for ourselves.