Orphan Spirit vs. Child of God

“Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here. I don’t really belong in this family.”

“Mommy do you see me? Do you notice me? Mooommmmy, looook!”

“I don’t need your help. Forget it! I can do it myself!”


These are words I’ve heard from my children time and again. To the naked eye, these amount to nothing more than normal kid banter. I mean, every kid says this kind of stuff, right?


One could argue these phrases color the normal path of growing up. Moving from dependence to independence. Childhood to adulthood. And of course, a well placed “nevermind” paired with the perfect eye roll is par for the course in any stage of puberty.

Yes. All kids do this.

But in my experience, the phrases and underlying context take on VASTLY different meanings depending on which of my children is speaking. The weight and myriad of layers encapsulated in the voice of my adopted children differs greatly from that of my biological kids. That’s just part of the deal. 

While adoption is a most beautiful gift, it is also a journey fundamentally born of abandonment and confusion. This reality proved inherently true when we brought your two youngest home from Ethiopia 4.5 years ago. 

In the fragility of those early days, Kelel and Senait were, for all intents and purposes, Nilsens in name only. Their identities — who they thought they were, who they believed themselves to be — had been compromised. Although their passports read “Nilsen,” their hearts did not.

Who could blame them?? The adoption, the coming together of our family, was the bi-product of a broken world, broken bodies, broken economies and a broken system…By all accounts, their identity crisis made total sense given the trauma they had experienced. In a matter of moments, one single stroke of a judge’s pen turned complete strangers into family, signifying we were one. They were our children, heirs to all that we are and all that we have, but they could not, and would not receive it.

At least, not in its full form.

There have been times the reality of this disconnect has been beyond painful and other moments where it’s just a general mood in the air. Regardless of how it plays out in any given moment, however, I have been fascinated by the concept of what it looks like to live from an “orphan spirit” or as a “child of God.”

Although I personally am not adopted in the physical sense, I am adopted in the spiritual sense, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In Galatians 4, Paul tells us that God sent Jesus to “buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we ‘Gentiles’ have become his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into [our] hearts, and now [we] can call God [our] dear Father.” 

We are no longer spiritual orphans, but God’s own sons and daughters! Chosen and dearly loved! Belonging to His family. 

So why in the Sam-darn-it-all-to-heck don’t I always act like a chosen, beloved, apple-of-his-eye kind of child?? Why do I kick against the goads and continually question my own identity and worth? If I truly believed and lived into the truth of who God says I am instead of believing filthy lies, well, that would change everything. I know this to be indomitably true because I have a front row seat as I watch it play out in my own home (both physically and spiritually).

If it’s true in the physical sense, it stands to reason the same thing would play out spiritually as well.

Am I a child of God only on paper, checking off all the proverbial Christian boxes?? Or am I a child of God in my heart, mind, body and soul? Because, there IS a difference! A big one at that.

I heard a sermon a while back that rocked my world to no end. My heart beat out of my chest as I heard the pastor describe in no uncertain terms what it looks like to live from an orphan spirit vs. as a child of God. Here’s the idea:

The Orphan: Operates FOR favor

** Key Paradigm: What must I do to earn your love? What will it take to get you to love me?

The Child: Operates FROM favor

** Key Paradigm: I can live in freedom and peace in my true self, unafraid to make mistakes because I already know I am unconditionally loved.

The Orphan: Operates with Low Trust & High Need for Control

** Key Paradigm: I don’t know if I can trust you or anyone else, so I’ll go ahead and micro-manage my private world. Thank you very little.

The Child: Operates with High Trust & Low Need for Control

** Key Paradigm: I am willing to be vulnerable and let you into my world (warts and all) because I trust your heart. I’ll share my hopes and dreams knowing you have my best interest in mind.

Turns out that processing my thoughts, emotions and behaviors through this filter radically revolutionizes my days. When my teeth clench and my knuckles turn white, I know I have fallen prey to the orphan spirit. A spirit shrouded in control, anxiety and fear. That is not how I want to live. And that is definitely not what brings true life.

Yes, trauma will continue to rear its ugly head. It will show up unannounced at any hour of the day or night, but I pray as we journey from here, we can learn to trust the God who created our inner-most being, the God who wove us together in our mother’s womb. We may or may not be able to trust that mother (that is something to work out along the way), but we sure can trust HIM.

Because He is so very good and often beyond-our-wildest-dreams surprising!

In what ways do you find it difficult to trust God? How can you shift from operating as an orphan to operating as a beloved child?

Christina’s Take: 

Operating FROM favor. Such a piercing challenge to remember, remember, and remember again that I am His. I think I have a difficult time trusting God because I think I am so capable. In essence, I don’t trust God because I trust myself.…yeah, me…the one who has proven again and again to NOT be trustworthy in just about every area. And that operating shift is a huge deal. I think in my life it looks a lot like a shift towards operating FROM favor and then away from it and then perhaps closer to that non-orphan operation system the next time. It’s shifts, and starts, and reversals and everything in between. 

Holly’s Take:

It’s like you have two posts here. One about the day to day, standing in the kitchen, kids everywhere, orphan spirit, which I can relate to with every bone in my body.  And then there is the spiritual orphan, who is me.  I can clearly identify with scenario number 1.  And I always think that I can’t relate to scenario number two, with me being the orphan until the very second that another unexpected circumstance pops up.  Then there is anxiety and worry and trustlessness (I’m pretty sure that is not a word, but it is now).  I always think I’m doing better and that I’m more trusting and living more out of freedom than fear, but then things happen and I go back to my normal M. O. I seriously do think that someday, I will be different. 



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