1 Samuel 1:9-20 or 1 Samuel 1:1-8
My brother-in-law Emil is a wonderful man. He is free of any addiction to drugs or alcohol, highly ethical in his work and personal life, devoted to his family, generous in giving of his time and talent to the community, and overall the kind of guy you’d feel privileged to have as a friend. In 2011 Emil was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma. There is no cure for this. The best anyone can hope for is remission, a state that buys time in increments of months or years before the cancer returns again.
Such a grim diagnosis puts all of life into perspective. Though Emil is clearly not a bad person, he decided that the shortening length of his days require deeper reflection to see where his longings, activities, and behaviors fall short of what they should be. He sees more clearly now what is truly important and what can easily be left behind. He also sees what cannot so easily be left behind, but which must be released from his too-tight grasp in order to stay true to his newly honed priorities and the vision he holds for the remainder of his life. Slowly and with great effort, he feels himself being transformed.
Today’s readings, like Emil’s cancer, are wake- up calls about what is truly important. Is it a priority to fit into society’s definitions for our value? I loudly proclaim the contrary, yet how often do I lament and weep because I am chasing goals to which society or church or friends attribute esteem and status? Though I do not have visible demons on regular public display, what are my deeper unseen demons that need to be exorcised?
In practical terms: If I was diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow, what would be easy to let go of? (OK, let’s start there and let go.) What would be my highest priorities? (OK, why aren’t they my highest priorities right now?) To what am I clinging that, while not manifestly evil, needs to be released in order to further grow into the person God created me to be? (Ah, that’s the hard part!)
Salvation history repeatedly demonstrates that our God has a habit of turning the world upside down. Emil’s world is certainly turned upside down. Perhaps my world needs to be. After all, the truth is that any one of us could die in this new year without the warning that Emil has been given.
I pray that it will not take a terminal diagnosis to open our hearts to God’s ways of transformation. It will not be easy; in fact, such piercing self-scrutiny is usually intensely painful and often requires spiritual direction and guidance. Yet what pursuit is more important? Time is short. Let’s truly "repent and believe in the gospel ", becoming ever more authentically the persons God created us to be.
Poor Hannah. Her husband loved her, she had a good life free from want, and she was devoted to God. Yet she was miserable, unable to eat and constantly weeping, because she did not have the status that society expected of a woman. She did not have a child (and a male child at that). And her husband’s other wife, the mother of several children and two priests, never let her forget it.
In the gospel, Jesus calls disciples who leave everything behind in order to follow him. They leave behind society’s expectations of them, their family and religious obligations (as Jewish sons they had a mitzvot to honor and take care of their fathers, yet they left the patriarch to fix the nets alone), and everything they had.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.