As a single woman who has never lost a family member under 80, had a nasty breakup, or lost a good friend, I have found that my greatest risk of loving and losing has been the handful of youth group kids whom I have taken into my heart and my home. It has also been the first test I have had of a true idol in my life. My four “kids,” who are in a different category than the hundreds of kids whom I have taught and mentored because they have actually lived with me and looked to me as a mom, are now 23, 20, 19, and 14 years old. I have been deeply hurt by some of the choices they have made, but I also love them with a love that would consume me if I let it. That is idolatry.
When I read C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce as a Bible school student, one of the characters stood out to me: Pam, the mother. Rereading her story today (chapter 11), was like a punch in the gut. Pam comes to the afterlife 10 years after her young son, Michael, has died. She has spent those years wishing Michael back and being angry at her husband and her daughter because she perceived they didn’t miss Michael as much as she did. Now, as her brother is trying to guide her into Heaven, Pam makes it clear that she is not in Heaven to be with God (not to mention the rest of her family), but to see her darling son. Her brother tells her the first thing she needs to be strong enough for Heaven is to want someone else besides Michael: “only a little germ of desire for God,” instead of “treating God only as a means to Michael.” Pam’s brother also explains that sometimes God takes away something we love too much so that we can learn to love Him truly.
Though I was close to my family growing up, especially being homeschooled, I always knew that I would move away and that things would change. That transition seemed to go smoothly from my own perspective. For some reason, it didn’t prepare me to let my own kids go. Any time that I have to go for a substantial period of time without being with or hearing from one of my kids (treatment, jobs, Covid-19, or more painful reasons), I have done it pretty unwillingly. I am learning that it is my opportunity to press into God, but I am horrible at it. I continue to pray that God will end the necessity of the separation, and in so doing I am treating God as a means to my will, just like Pam. When I panic and get clingy, I also am operating under the delusion that a human being could be really “mine,” or that I could be theirs. We all belong to God, first and last. We can only love others because He loved us first (I John 4:19), and I will find my ultimate satisfaction in no one but Him.
Christina Osthus (FLBC 2006) lives in Omaha, Neb.