I got my first tattoo recently. Though it’s a topic that’s often debated, for me it was a really pivotal and empowering expression-to literally wear a piece of my heart on my sleeve . . . to make something inward permanently outward. It’s quite vulnerable, really.
Tattoos invite questions. “What does it mean?” “What motivated you to get that?” “You really want that on you forever?”
They also invite assumptions. “Oh, she must be a cool girl.” “She must be rebellious.” etc., etc.
Ultimately, I made the decision to express myself in this way and the various responses come with the territory. The whole experience, however, got me thinking . . . in a sense, we all have tattoos.
We all carry aspects of our identity that are evident to those around us, signifiers of who we are and what we’re about. Some things are within our control, and some are not.
For the children our partner homes in India, Russia, and Kenya have brought into their care, the word “orphan” might as well be tattooed across their foreheads.
The identity of “orphan” comes with loads of assumptions and pre-judgments. In many countries, orphans are considered society’s refuse. Unwanted. Unloved. A burden to bear rather than children in need of redemption.
It is so easy to believe the lies projected onto our identities. My heart breaks for the children who believe that to be an orphan is to be rejected, unseen, and alone. I imagine they wish they could scrub long and hard enough to remove this “tattoo” that they never asked for from their aching skin.
To be honest with you, the term “orphan” has so many negative connotations that I have even struggled with whether or not to use it when referring to the children The Boaz Project serves. It isn’t the ultimate mark of their identity. I see so much more. God sees so much more.
However, when we pay attention to how God refers to orphans in Scripture, it is clear to see that to be an orphan is to be endlessly near to God’s heart.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” – Psalm 68:5
God unashamedly identifies with those society despises. He declares Himself family to those who have none.
“The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” – Psalm 146:9
The Lord’s loving, protective hand remains firmly on those who are oppressed and abused.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17
God comes to the defense of those whose voices are stifled. He promises to bring about justice.
All throughout Scripture, the Lord pleads with us to see orphans the way He sees them. Once we fully grasp the ferocity of God’s love for the fatherless, we are responsible to change the narrative of their identity to chosen, wanted, and worthy.
Sometimes it only takes one person to tell a child that they are loved and known by God to begin the process of healing their scars and spark confidence in their identity as His child.
Many orphans may never be able to hide this identity that often provokes shame. We all have “tattoos” that we never asked to carry around for all to see.
We must remember that what God sees matters more. When we become His, He lovingly carves the identity of “son” or “daughter” on our hearts. This identity is eternally more permanent than the tattoo on my arm.
Please pray today that every orphan would recognize the treasured position that comes with their circumstances. God proudly wears the badge of “Father to the fatherless.” No amount of worldly rejection will ever change that.
Please also remember the following in prayer:
- Lift Peter, an 11-year-old boy living in our Kenyan partner home. He’s been struggling with mental and behavioral challenges that interfere with his schooling.The caregivers need wisdom as they seek an educational path for him.
- Ask for protection over our Indian secondary students as they return to school, that they would remain virus-free (younger children remain in distance learning).
- Thank God for the use of phone and video in Russia as a means for our teams to still connect with the children (all of whom are still in quarantine). Ask God not only to maintain, but actually to strengthen those connections during these difficult days.
- Bring the Christ Youth Bible Clubs in the U.S. before God as they learn about caring for orphans and provide wish list items (school uniforms, school books and supplies, and birthday gifts) this month. May their hearts be moved with compassion and love.
Great article! It is not just the labels that society puts on us that effects us. I am guilty of assigning labels to myself. Labels that don’t always align with how Scripture defines a child of God. God has been so kind, gracious and patient with me. As a popular song on the Christian radio says, “I am who You say I am.”
I’m sure I’ve been labeled throughout my life, for example what opinions I have can cause people to label me. Or it use to bother me when someone would ask me where are you from? You sound like a hillbilly they may say. I automatically identified and labeled myself as a person uneducated because many people label southern people as being slow and uneducated. It doesn’t bother me anymore but it use to. Just goes to show you we label ourselves and what we think people may label us.
So impactful to think about our outward identity in relation to who God says we are. Indeed, all of us who are labeled are near and dear to God’s heart.
Very moving and well written.