“No one is with me. No one can keep me safe. There is no one who won’t ever leave me alone” (Gail, Passages, 1976)
In these words Gail Sheehy, a renowned author, described how the midlife crises first came tumbling in upon her. In Northern Ireland on assignment for a magazine, she was talking with a young man one day when gunfire erupted, the young man’s face was blown away, and he fell into her arms. She realized as never before that she was mortal. In the ensuing days her whole outlook changed. She saw more clearly than ever before that her time was limited; that if she wanted to accomplish the goals she had set for herself she would have to get at it.
Sheehy put her finger on that personal crisis each of us must face, whether it comes to us in midlife or before: the knowledge that no other person can underwrite my life, the realization that time is slipping away, the brutal awakening to the fact that I alone am responsible for what I make of my life. Sheehy’s book is helpful; we need to know that this crisis is a common human experience. But her words also provide a challenge for as Christians: “No one is with me … There is no one who won’t ever leave me alone.” Did not Jesus face the forsakenness of the cross so that we might pray, “Our Father who art in heaven …?” Are we ultimately alone, orphaned in the world?
Sigmund Freud’s main thesis in The Future of an Illusion was that humankind had used religion long enough as an escape from reality, used “God” too long as a security blanket and that it was high time that we grow up and face life as adults.
Is Freud right? Is God a security blanket for adults? Do we program our children for neurosis by hanging on to our religion? Are those who are reared without religious training better to cope with life? Should we grow up and learn to face life as adults, without religion?
True, religion is often used in an unhealthy way to escape the realities of life. The believer who denies the death of a child, smothering natural grief by “turning it over to the Lord,” is indulging in religious escapism. One is an escapist when he or she searches for a verse of Scripture to answer every ethical decision in life. Many simple religious formulas belie the same kind of wish to be children again: “Be good, go to church, and God will never let anything bad happen to you.”
But not all religion is escapist. In contrast to Freud we Christians believe that our faith in the heavenly Father promotes growth toward full and responsible adulthood. The difference lies in the kind of Father we have encountered in Jesus Christ. The Father we meet in Jesus does not shield us from suffering; He suffers with us. In Christ, our Father shows us how to live and serve in the real world.
Like Freud, some of us Christians seem never to have met the heavenly Father who came in Jesus. He is not here to do our bidding; we are here to do his will. Our comfort is not His primary concern; His primary concern is our welfare. He calls us to share in the world’s suffering, to serve. He will not allow us to remain forever children, we should also see that He will not let us walk alone – orphaned in the world. Our Father is our only hope and security, but he is not our security blanket."