Fear of Abandonment! Perhaps this is the greatest fear that human beings have. It stalks us from the time we are born until the time we die! We see evidence of that fear in many different circumstances:
- In babies and young children who feel abandoned when they cannot see their parents Research has shown that babies who are abandoned in hospitals by their mothers and fathers, if not regularly held by nurses or other aides at the hospital may well die for no physical reason. Those who survive will be likely to have permanent psychotic problems for the rest of their lives. All of us who have been parents recognize the cry of fear when a baby thinks its mother has left it—-all who teach school or who are parents remember kindergarten children who are away from their mothers for the first time—-clinging to their mothers or fathers and crying—-afraid that the parent won’t come back for them—-fear of abandonment!
- Adults have the same fears. Many are the number of men and women in our society who put up with both verbal and physical abuse and violence from their mates rather than face the fact that their mates might abandon them. As a pastor I have heard this many times from both men and women who are in the midst of divorce—-“I feel lost and rejected and abandoned!”
- One of my saddest experiences as a pastor was walking into a hospital room or nursing home room and seeing a patient in the midst of great suffering or even actively dying—AND THE PERSON WAS ALONE! At the same time, it was always amazing to watch that person’s countenance change the minute myself or a loved one or friend walked into the room. Those who suffer are less anxious, and even have less pain we are told, when someone they love or care for deeply is willing to walk with them through the valley of the shadow.
- As a hospice chaplain, I learned that one of the seven greatest fears that dying persons have is DYING ALONE. Abandonment! Terminal patients often feel abandoned by doctors who don’t see them as often; by friends who don’t know what to say and so stay away; and even by family that doesn’t visit as much because they are uncomfortable with the realization that the person is dying. FEAR OF ABANDONMENT IS A REAL FEAR FOR MANY AT THE END OF LIFE AS WELL AS AT THE BEGINNING.
- One other fear is FEAR OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD. In hospice we referred to it as “Spiritual Pain.” It is a feeling by the patient that God has abandoned them because of their worthlessness or sinfulness. Spiritual pain can result in great anger, or great sorrow, and is difficult for the patient to overcome. Spiritual pain can be the cause of death of hospice patients before the terminal disease overcomes them.
The Bible speaks often to this fear of abandonment. One of the places it speaks is in the book of Genesis.
God said (to Noah), “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you for all future generations. I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:12-15
The Hebrew word for “bow” here is keshet—and it may be used to refer both to a weapon or a natural phenomenon—-to a “bow” (as in bow and arrow) or to a “bow” (as in rainbow).
Some scholars think that the context of this passage tells us that God is placing his “unstrung bow” in the clouds as a reminder of the covenant God has made, not just with Israel but with all creation, to never again use God’s power to destroy humankind, no matter how terrible the aggravation we may give God.
Regardless of how “bow” is translated, the message is the same—-the “bow in the clouds” is a constant reminder that God will never give up on us. This is the heart of the gospel that Jesus is at the center of. This is the heart of the gospel that the Apostle Paul proclaimed. God loves his creation and that love is not something we earn but are freely given.
Jesus tells his disciples shortly before his death: “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. (John 14:18-19)
Jesus’ final words to his disciples at the close of Matthew’s Gospel are: “And remember I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
Paul reassured the Corinthian Christians with these words: “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
And Paul’s writes the ultimate words of assurance of God’s love in his letter to the Romans: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ….No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation , will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
God is with you. You cannot change that. God will never abandon you. As the prophet Isaiah writes: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom. Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. (Isaiah 43:1-4)
The Psalmist sings: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with me; his rod and his staff comfort me. He prepares me a table in the midst of my enemies; he anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
God loves us as God’s children! He will not abandon us—ever. In our joys and in our sorrows; in our triumphs and our failures, when life is beautiful and when it is stormy, God is there. Despite anything you or I do—-God loves us and will never abandon us.