Have you ever heard adults refer to a youth as “an Old Soul?” What the adult means is that the youth is wiser than his or her years would suggest. As a foster and former foster youth, I was called an Old Soul often enough that I remember it. From my insider perspective, foster youth like me were Old Souls because we thought theologically about our foster care experience.
“What did I do that’s so bad that I can’t live at home?” “If my mommy and daddy loved me, wouldn’t they be here with me?” “If they don’t love me, who can?” “Why is life so painful?” “If there really was a God, I wouldn’t be in foster care, right?” Theology need not be framed in sophisticated terms. These are as soul-searching theological questions as ever asked, and are daily pondered by even the youngest foster children. Trust me on this one.
Psychologists understand that a child asking, “Does God love me?” or “Does God get angry at me?” is more likely a search for assurance that her parents love her or are not angry with her. What of the foster child who silently wonders if God loves her? She wonders in silence because her parents are not there to ask, so from her foster care perspective and with her child logic, her perception is that neither her parents nor God love her because neither is present. What of the foster child who silently wonders if God is angry? Similarly, from his foster care perspective and with his child logic, his perception is that both his parents and God are angry with him because neither is present. Although neither perception may be accurate, both are real in their consequence. One consequence is that you grow into being an Old Soul.
How does a former foster child like me, who spent at least twenty years with the belief that neither his parents nor God loved him, eventually develop faith in God and learn to honor his parents? Theologically speaking, I lean toward what W. Paul Jones refers to as Theological World 1, the world of separation and reunion, and suspect I have since I entered foster care. In this Theological World 1, Old Souls usually have a sense of abandonment and isolation as we hunt for hope and home. This hunt tends to launch us into a deep quest to understand the mystery of our existence and a tireless search for harmony.
Visiting a Catholic Church not long ago in search of a quiet oasis to reflect on some concerns, I mentally juggled several constellations of thought. I was thinking of what it means to be an Old Soul in a culture that is increasingly self-centered. I was thinking about a particular foster care experience. I was thinking generally about the pain and suffering of others. I was thinking about the importance of a person’s theology (attempts to understand his or her existence within the context of the existence of God). And I was thinking about the development of my own theology.
As I mentally juggled these constellations, my eyes traced the paintings along both side walls of the sanctuary, which illustrated the Stations of the Cross. I then began to imagine, what would it look like if Jesus were a foster child? What would it look like if the foster care experience were described from the perspective of Stations of the Cross? Old Souls ask these kinds of questions.
I provide my thoughts in the next six posts.