Hosea 11:1-4, 8c-9
My cousin and his wife had a son, Jake, who was popular, smart, a top-ranked athlete, and an all-around great kid. Unfortunately, being a talented and gifted young man with devoted parents isn’t always enough. Jake began struggling with alcohol and drugs in high school and his addictions worsened when he left for college. His parents tried everything to help, and eventually admitted him to a rehab unit. There he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental illness that leads many sufferers to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. It also leads a high proportion of them, especially males under 30, to take their own lives. Jake died in May at the age of 21.
There is nothing more excruciating for parents than to watch their beloved child go astray despite their best efforts. There is nothing more tragic than a person sinking so irretrievably into despair that seemingly the only way out is to die. There are no words that can capture or take away the utter heartbreak my cousin and his wife feel. At times like this, God alone fully understands, and God’s heart breaks, too. In fact, God’s cry of pain in Hosea is one that my cousin could pray: "The more I called them, the farther they went from me… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love…Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer."
Through the lens of Jake and Hosea, I think of how God must mourn over all of us, both individually and collectively. We are talented, gifted people beloved by our Creator. God has given without measure, offered everything we need, and sacrificed even life itself to show us how to love. Yet we turn our backs. We persist in addictions, betrayals, wars, destruction of the earth, and behaviors that not only kill others but are killing ourselves. Then we self-medicate our brokenness with substances, power and ego, or a vast array of other strategies, denying the source of all healing, the font of all love, and the ground of our being.
In the face of it all, I can feel helpless. No matter how strong my desire, I can’t stop Jake and others like him from dying. I can’t change our world into a compassionate, just, or fair place. But if this leads me to despair, too, then all is lost. In the face of pain, death, and profound suffering, each of us has a choice. As Mother Teresa so often reminded us, none of us can do everything but all of us can do something……..if we choose to do it.
So maybe each morning I can allow myself to cry out to God for all the Jakes who will die that day and the families that will mourn them. I can grieve for the devastation, pain, and sorrow in so much of our world. Then I can re-commit myself to staying close to God’s all-encompassing embrace, and doing my best to live up to the challenges and commands that such love requires. And as part of every day I can do at least one concrete thing to bring healing, hope, and peace to someone in need.
Doing so helps others and makes a difference in the world, however small. It also strengthens my relationship with God so that when I myself am in need of mercy, when inevitably I sin, when I fail or life fails me, when I am broken and confused, when I don’t know where to turn, I may more readily refuse to seek the things of this world but rely instead on the only One who is my true healer.
I wish I had better answers than that. I wish I could do more. But God is God and I am not. My task is to do what I can where I am. If we all did that, it would be enough, and together we may be able to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
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/.