The Oak Life Journal
Mar | Apr 2023
"The Cosmological Problem of Orphan Care"
By Cameron Talbot
4 minute read
Our work in orphan care is a direct type and shadow of the cosmological story between God and man.
This revelation has fundamentally changed the way I understand both the vastness of our worlds, and also the small but important work we do with children. The two are eternally intertwined. They speak the same language, and require the same solvent.
Here’s what I discovered—
Theologians, religious thinkers and philosophers of all persuasions have been staring at the stars and listening to the whispers for thousands of years. Everyone has different ideas of what they see and hear. But there is one thing that they all agree upon—
In Genesis, when humanity was an infant and the story was just beginning, a terrible event occurred. Family boundaries were broken by evil, and the children became lost. God, reacting to this loss, cried out, “Where are you?!”
And with those words echoing out across the torn landscape, the concept of orphanhood became humanity’s reality. The intrinsic value we carry, our “preciousness,” became overshadowed by loss and darkness.
Every major religion acknowledges the lostness and fragility of mankind. Now, like the children we serve, we bear the markings of fight, flight and freeze. The trauma of losing our secure attachment figure has led to confusion, relational strife, physical pain, mental torture and deadly fear. It’s a large-scale version of the problems we see in the children we serve every day.
How we become “unlost” is where religions part ways. But the question is a serious one with both large cosmological and small orphanage implications.
How are we to find our preciousness again?
And how do we rescue children in shelters from the same?
Some say that moral law, rules and control will find the lost preciousness. If the children would simply force themselves to obey and conform, they could rediscover their true form. I’ve seen shelters operate this way.
Some say that the children don’t even need a caregiver to instill preciousness, they could find it in themselves if they’d just settle down, meditate, think, or study the stars.
Still others say that the problem of lostness is a myth in itself. Whatever path in life you choose is the right way; just feel good things. Everything’s fine! It’ll all work out if you just be positive.
It is amongst the simplest of truths that left alone, children are unable to instill preciousness in themselves. True value is given. It’s also true that obedience affects behavior, but does not reinstate identity. The lost cannot rescue themselves, and being forced into abject obedience will only get you so far.
Religions of all types try to spin a wholesome end to the sad story, but only one bears this message:
A lost child requires a trust-based relationship with a self-sacrificing caregiver.
This is profoundly true when working with children of trauma. You can work hard to set up the perfect environment for the kids, you can be a great person, you can have the right rules, but if you haven’t begun building deep and abiding relationships with each one, your progress will be superficial. Instilling preciousness requires intimacy.
And not just anyone can fill that role.
This caregiver must be willing to die to themselves, and bear the sins of the child’s history—those sins thrust upon the child, and those sins enacted by the child. And as the child wrestles with sensory processing disorders, attachment disorders and maladaptive behaviors, the caregiver must lend their brain and body. Their life must be poured out to reconcile the darkness, and nothing less will do.
God’s words, “Where are you?!” drifted across space and time, until the perfect caregiver, Jesus of Nazareth, took up the cross of orphanhood. And with a cry of eternal finality, he bore our trauma onto himself, mourned with all children, and broke the curse of solitude by bookending God’s words with humanity’s reply, “Father, why have you left me?!”
Caregiving children of trauma is to die to yourself. But that isn’t enough. We must also be powerful enough to overcome it. Death without resurrection isn’t healing.
And so we take the pain home when we leave the children’s shelter. We mourn preciousness lost and ask for strength to process everything we see and hear. And then we come back in resurrection the following day to look the child in the eye and say, “I’m still with you, precious one.”
The cosmic person of Jesus, who underwent the full experience of our human suffering, resurrected and became the Way to integrated healing. He reunites Father and child.
For the fight, flight or freeze in you—for the burden of lost preciousness you bear—I recommend Jesus as your caregiver. Not the idea of Jesus or the nice teachings of Jesus—ideas don’t save children…only relationships can do that. I recommend Jesus the person, and a living, real relationship with him.
And for the fight, flight or freeze in the children you serve, I recommend striving to be like Jesus. Build relationships of trust by daily sacrificing your own needs, your own comfort and take up their burdens instead. Lend them your brain and your body—take up their cross.
Our role in orphan care is to live like Jesus—that trustworthy, cosmological caregiver—and rescue preciousness lost.