Let No One Walk Alone
May 12, 2023
May 12, 2023
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18
I have been an adult “orphan” for 29 years – almost half my life at this point. My Dad died when I was 25, my Mom when I was 32. Not tragically young to be orphaned, but somewhat young today.
While both the Greek and the Hebrew words for orphan can mean a child who is fatherless, “orphan” derives from a Greek root term meaning “to be alone, deprived.” Some scholars say the Hebrew traces back more accurately to a root meaning “lonely.” Today the word most commonly refers to children who tragically lose both parents before the age of 18. But there are many losses in our lives that can make us feel “orphaned.” For me, two other such losses stand out. Senior year in high school I lost my friend, Stephen, a “second brother” to my family, to a random murder. Just over six years ago, as many of you know, we lost our 25 year old son, Owen, to suicide. Owen’s 32nd birthday would be this Monday, May 15th, the date of which, coincidentally, is the 39th anniversary of Stephen’s death.
Each of these losses evoked feelings of loneliness and deprivation of the physical presence, support, comfort and earthly love of these incredibly significant relationships in my life. In addition, Stephen’s loss evoked fear and anxiety around random acts of violence. Owen’s evoked “what ifs” – wonderings of whether anything could have been done that would have allowed him to still be here with us.
I imagine the disciples, including Mary, were feeling many of these same feelings in the days and weeks after Jesus’ arrest and death. Fear – of the authorities. Anxiety – about the future. Depression – from the profound loss of their son and friend, the One they had given up everything to follow. Maybe even some foolishness – now how were they going to show their faces to their families, their former employers? Shame – Peter for multiple denials, Thomas for doubt, Judas (the loneliest of all?) for betrayal, to name a few. What-ifs – could they have done anything to have prevented Jesus’ death? Uncertainty – what were they supposed to do next? Even after the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, he promptly told them that he would soon be leaving them again, a second loss after a momentary joy.
We can be certain the disciples and apostles experienced all these emotions. Jesus, fully human, also experienced them and understood them. As a loving friend, he promised that he would not leave them – and, thereby, us – orphaned, abandoned, lonely. He would get God to send the Spirit, who would be with them – and, thereby, us – not just for a few years, but for always. Jesus knew that to ward off loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression, shame, what-ifs, uncertainty, the depths of despair, we need accompaniment by a holy, life-affirming, steadfast, compassionate love. I was incredibly fortunate, and remain eternally grateful, that I had and felt the gift of this kind of love and support, both physically and spiritually, during my times of feeling most “orphaned.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Loneliness, anxiety, depression, fear and shame are raging epidemics in our world. None of us are immune. Even while dealing with our own “stuff,” can we be part of a solution by modeling Jesus and channeling the Comforter, the Spirit, in our accompaniment of others we encounter on our journeys? Can we be that holy, life-affirming, steadfast, compassionate love for someone? All we have is today. We or those we love could be gone tomorrow. As we sang at Owen’s funeral, in the words of Rory Cooney’s Jerusalem, My Destiny, “We have set our hearts for the way; this journey is our destiny. Let no one walk alone. The journey makes us one.”
I will not leave you orphans (lonely); I will come to you. So may we model our teacher and friend.