August 18, 2021

Lessons from Little Orphan Annie

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

— John 14:18

When I was 7 years old, I wanted to be Little Orphan Annie. I listened nonstop to the soundtrack from the original Broadway musical. Seeing the touring production in Chicago felt like a dream come true. I set my sights on becoming a cast member. Of course my goal was to be Annie, but I would have been happy to be any of the other spunky orphans as well. My mom will tell you I took my practice seriously, performing while standing atop a small wooden table in my bedroom. My stuffed animals were my audience, and I gave them quite a show. I was once so enthusiastic that I danced right off the table, crashing down upon my dollhouse.

My Broadway dreams never came true, but years later it was a delight to see my daughter cast as Annie in a community production in our small city in Upstate New York. Working with her on her lines brought back the magic of Annie that had once captured me.

In Depression Era New York City, billionaire Oliver Warbucks’ assistant chooses Annie to be the lucky recipient of an unforgettable Christmas at the Warbucks mansion. After a tough start, Warbucks softens to Annie and buys her a locket to replace the broken one she is wearing. Annie refuses to give up her old locket as it is the only connection she has to her parents, who left her at the orphanage as an infant. Annie still dreams of meeting her parents and often imagines what they’re like. Bet you he reads. Bet you she sews. Maybe she’s made me a closet of clothes… Warbucks sees that finding her parents is the desire of Annie’s heart and uses his immense wealth and influence to attempt to locate the parents who left Annie at the orphanage years before.

In some ways, the story of Annie is the cry of the human heart. We all want to know who we are. We want to be loved and cared for. We want to feel at home. And yet, so many of us live our lives as orphans.

Whether you grew up in the foster system or a loving two-parent home, to be human is to be broken. Some of us are more broken than others, but we all struggle with questions of identity and belonging. In God’s eyes, no brokenness is too big to be transformed by his loving embrace. He offers unconditional acceptance and radical healing.

I lived for many years as a Christian without recognizing the orphan cry that would repeatedly rise up in my heart.

What about me?

Don’t I matter?

Why am I always the one left out?

Why did she get recognized and not me?

Don’t I deserve more?

Why do I feel so empty?

Why doesn’t anybody hear me?

I’ll never have what I need.

Where do I belong?

Why am I so misunderstood?

I’ll never be enough!

Do any of these sound familiar? It’s an inexhaustible list. I’m sure you can add your own. The orphan cry is always characterized by lack—feeling (or knowing) that there is something missing. And something is missing when our hearts cry out from our orphanness, but we often don’t know what it is.

This missing piece is the love of God that welcomes us home. It is a love overflowing with comfort and acceptance—a love that tells us we are home and we belong.

Until we have a personal encounter with this love, our inner orphan continues to scream for attention. Notice me! Listen to me! Give me what I want! But when our hearts find their true home, we know we are seen and heard. We know we have a Father who will meet our needs.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 

— 1 John 3:1

Like Little Orphan Annie, we all want a home where we are known and loved, where our needs are anticipated and met. None of us were created to do life alone, and even the most ardently independent of us still need relationship. Isolation is a tool of the enemy, keeping us separated from a love that originates with God, flowing from the family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In truth, we are never really alone. But if we accept the lie, the enemy has us where he wants us, detached from the source of life.

God’s love whispers, “You are my child. All that is mine is yours.” This truth stands in stark contrast to the familiar voice of the enemy that screams, “You’ll never amount to anything. You don’t even deserve love.” Do you know that voice—the one that sucks the life out of you and makes you question your identity? God’s voice never does that. It doesn’t condemn. It doesn’t shame.

The voice of your heavenly Father always beckons you closer to home, to the place where your heart can find rest and belonging. Are you willing to accept his invitation? All he requires is a simple Yes. Just as Oliver Warbucks’ staff sings to Annie, You won’t be an orphan for long! Your Father’s arms are open wide. Your inheritance awaits.

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