From Slave To Friend of God: My Son's Story

I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.   John 15:14-15

No one knew better than Christ that the pain against which we so desperately try to numb ourselves, and all the world’s evil, seem to stem from our terrible fear that we are basically unlovable.     Heather King, Holy Desperation: Praying As If your Life Depends On it, 66

Few people I know have experienced the bondage of slavery like my beloved twenty-six year old son, Christian—who has struggled with a life-wrecking addiction for over ten years; an addiction mercilessly driven by a core belief that he is not loved.

But lately, something has changed. Something akin to a miracle has occurred.

Instead of using words like shame, rejection, fear and punishment, Christian is suddenly speaking the language of love. Specifically, he’s speaking about having encountered God’s personal, gentle, merciful love for him—an encounter that has changed, well—everything.

“My life has always been about failing, about suffering, about punishment,” Christian shared with me in a conversation two days ago. “But when I finally came to God in stillness, in quiet, with an open heart and mind, I heard him whisper in my heart—I love you.” As I listened in grateful awe, he continued: “Since I’ve allowed a little bit of that love to seep into the deepest places of my heart—into the darkest things I’ve ever known and done—I’ve seen that has always God loved me, that he only wanted to embrace me, and that he has always been there with me.”

This is precisely how we transform from slaves to friends of God.

 My son has a “new way of thinking,” as he referred to it, and it has everything to do with coming to believe that he is deeply loved by a merciful God, and that he’s called to live out of that reality.   This new way of understanding has convinced him that many people aren’t interested in God because they have the wrong idea about who God is, thinking of him as a punitive, exacting taskmaster instead of “as a gentle Father whose love and mercy hold the world together.”

Believe me, I know words can be cheap. But when you hear those words coming from the depth of a son’s heart—a son who’s been afflicted for so many years—you know something has radically changed. And you genuinely rejoice.

“Punishment is not who God is!” Christian stated emphatically. “He is love and what he wants is our hearts. People need to know that we are loved by a Father who wants to heal us, set us free, and bless us. And we can’t know that until we personally know who God is.”

Christian went on to say that he now recognizes that recovery—freedom from slavery to drugs—is not about shaming himself out of screwing up or beating himself over the head for falling. “Recovery is about healing the broken heart,” he concluded with conviction. “It’s about opening up, trusting, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to God and to others. What matters is that we are loved, and when we live our lives based on that fact, we become free.”

Indeed, I hear the sweet freedom of a friend of Christ in my son’s voice, a young man who has discovered at last that Christ’s “friends” are “those whom he loves.” I see the liberty of a child of God who has finally heard the voice of the Father whispering: You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.

Such is the cry of freedom of the children of God, freedom won only through love.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.

Are We Seeking Miracles or Magic?

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.     St. Ignatius of Loyola, Suscipe

If you’d asked me six months ago if I believe in miracles, I would have responded with a resounding “Yes!” Especially since I was praying ardently for a miracle at the time—the healing of someone whom I love that suffers from the dreaded disease of addiction.

I’d prayed for the same “miracle” countless times before—pleading with God for an outcome I desperately wanted and believed I needed for all to be “well.” As months passed and my prayers went seemingly unanswered, I felt more and more desolate, finding myself engaged in old, worn-out mental gymnastics that kept me ruminating constantly in fear and regret about “what ifs” and “woulda, coulda, shouldas.”

Then came the day that changed things: the day I walked into my spiritual director’s office and began weeping before I sat down. At my wits' end, I felt trapped by a gnawing sense of doom and despair from which I could not wrench myself.

“Maybe,” Fr. Robert gently suggested, “you’re hitting your own emotional bottom. Maybe this is active addiction is going to be the ‘new normal’ in your life. And maybe this is an invitation from God for you to learn to how to live in peace, no matter what happens with the circumstances.”

As usual, Fr. Robert had a way of nailing things quite precisely.

Later that day, I felt prompted to begin working on the next step of my Twelve Step Recovery Program, Step 3: “Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him.” Step 3 was accompanied by a question that hit me like thunderbolt of grace: Am I willing to stop asking God for the addict to change?      

 Was I willing to cease and desist with my constant prayer for God to heal my addicted loved one, the first prayer that came to my mind every time I had a rush of anxiety about his wellbeing?   Was I willing to accept that “God’s will” and “my will” might not be exactly the same, given the fact that God alone could grasp the big picture of our life stories? And could it be that placing my loved one radically into God’s hands—earnestly praying only “thy will be done” for him and for his life—is the only “miracle” I really needed?

 As I pondered and prayed over these questions, I began to experience the difference between magic and miracle, between willfulness and willingness, between an interior attitude which insists that “my will be done” vs. a trusting stance of finally being willing to turn everyone and everything over to the will of God. Though I’d learned this lesson before, I’d regressed, and God was inviting me again to let go of how I think things ought to be and shift from a posture of demanding magic to receiving a miracle.

Miracle involves openness to mystery, the welcoming of surprise, the acceptance of those realities over which we have no control. Magic is the attempt to be in control, to manage everything—it is the claim to be, or have a special relationship with, some kind of ‘god.’ (Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection, 118)

Though I’ve joked many times that “there is a God and it ain’t me,” there I’d gone, playing god again. I was praying for a miracle, but in reality, I’d been trying to exact magic.

That very day after meeting with my spiritual director, in a space of surrendered grace, I “made a decision to turn my will and my life over the care of God as I understood him” believing he could restore me to sanity.

At last, the miracle arrived. His will. His ways. Peace.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.