We Wait for Word with Life and Death in the Balance

We are waiting. It has been over a week now since I dropped my son off at the ferry. And no word.

No word as to whether he made it to the recovery house, whether the place is a “good house” or a detour on the path. No indication as to whether the silence means that he has dropped off the narrow path to health and now lies in a spiritual and physical ditch, bound tightly by his addictions; or, now moving to a different tempo of time as set by the Cree and Native Indian Church’s cycle of ceremonies?

Phone calls and emails to various members of the family most likely to be in contact are seasoned with “have you heard anything?”

Generally, I am not a fan of waiting for anything.

I don’t like line-ups. I cringe when I hear researchers report that the average person will spend 5 years of his or her life waiting in line. Yuk! I applaud Amazon’s efforts to shrink constantly the time between “click and ship,”  having a drone drop off my latest order at my office door.

But this waiting is different.

This waiting is not just about impatience or personality. This period contains the possibilities not just of disappointment but of a loss whose very prospect squeezes the cold fingers of fear around my heart.

A future is at stake - for him, for me, for nieces and nephews who will need him, for the rest of his family and others who love him.

Advent is one of those seasons of the Christian year that highlights the state of waiting.

I hate this dimension of Advent. The rest of my life has planners, calendars and journals to help me achieve clarity and work towards the outcomes I desire.

Over this, I have no control. And I don’t like it.

People, wanting to offer a word of comfort about my son, say “You’ve done all you could.” I don’t feel that is true. I am too well aware of my sins and shortcomings, of all the ways I did not give 100% to bring about a new reality. Perhaps if I was a different person with different DNA and life experience I could have found a way.

But, at this stage, it is not about me “doing all I could.”

At any rate, I am no longer - if ever I was - a determining part of the solution. I may have a role but I am not the key factor.

So, like those who have gone before, the prophets - Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah and the rest of that motley crew, and the supplicants like Hannah, Sara and Elizabeth I cry out. Or, in more subdued and language less coloured by agony, I pray.

I do not pray to the kind of God who provides parking spaces in a crowded lot at Christmas time. I do not believe in a puppet-master, a grand accountant or project manager God. I am not looking for the straw-man image of the old man deity with the long beard who lives above it all.

But I do believe in a God who engages and who cares.

I have not yet settled on a final image for this God.

And, at this point, I don’t really care if the metaphor fits.

Right now I do not live in a theoretical world.

So I make my plea for the salvation of one whose life is shackled and whose liberation lies beyond my power.

I often wonder why it was to the shepherds that the angels in the birth narratives of Jesus first appeared. If those stories were written today would the angels have appeared not to shepherds but to those addicted to heroin and other drugs. Would the “good news of great joy” be given first to those who yearn most deeply for a new order that would set them free from their current conditions, whatever those might be? I wonder. Such a move would not be above the grit and gravel type of God to which I pray.

Would the “good news of great joy” be given first to those who yearn most deeply for a new order that would set them free?

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I am waiting; we are waiting, ready for signs of new life born in unlikely places.

“Oh Lord, hear my cry.”

Photos by Maxime Le Conte des Floris, Paul Itkin, Allef Vinicius from Unsplash


  1. Keith, I thought I submitted this but it seems to have disappeared instead. Feel free to delete if it comes through twice! From all too personal experience I share your dislike of waiting. It is surely true that ‘nothing helps’. The road to treatment and healing is littered with broken bodies and broken souls. The path into and through the places of our deepest shame, pain, cultural, spiritual and human trauma is so dark that we are loathe to go there unaccompanied by our trusted ally, addiction. It both helps and is immensely painful to know that so many loved ones are hoping that ‘this time’ we will really make it. For me, it also helped to know that there were some souls out there (and maybe even a Creator) who loved me right where I was that day. The day I wasn’t healed, wasn’t sober, wasn’t fit to be a friend, a mother, a minister or even, if I believed my own self-talk, fit to be alive. I know that you and Gaye continue to be that non-judgmental loving and hopeful presence in your son’s life. God love you today.

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