Abandonment Issues

My brother’s forearm flashed across the screen of my smart phone. The white light in his upstairs Toledo flat illuminated something I’d never seen before. Oblong scars, nearly half the size of a dime, perforated the landscape of his skin. Even though I’d known about Marc’s lost years as a musician, the sight of an addict’s arm unsettled me.

He’s European. I’m American. You might say my origins are a marriage of cultures—except without the marriage. Marc’s oldest brother—my oldest brother—is sixty-four days older than I am. My American mother, heartbroken, came back from Switzerland six months pregnant with me. Marc’s mother married and then divorced our father. By all accounts, the union was never remotely happy, even if it did experience flashes of passion. Two of the three children from that marriage went into the custody of social services, including Marc. So would I, although only briefly. But it’s not difficult to see the source of Marc’s lifelong battles.

Marc now lives in Spain, where he’s resided since leaving rehab twenty years ago. Yet we’re brothers. “Twice brothers,” he likes to say. Thanks to DNA tests, we discovered each other just prior to the pandemic, and now we talk for at least an hour each week on video calls.

Despite the amusing difference in our accents—and the fact that he speaks six languages and I speak only one—there’s no denying our similarities. We share a love for the same styles of music, possess the same refusal to be bored, and have the same relentless need for conversation (we’re Swiss-Italian, after all). We have similar mannerisms and the same irrepressible sense of humor. The same man brought us into the world—and then wasn’t there for either of us.

Most importantly, we share a love for the same Jesus.

Marc met Jesus while in rehab at a Christian facility. “Such joy, my brother!” he exclaims whenever he describes the moment he turned to Christ.

When I first learned of his history of addiction, I worried about what he might want from me. I shouldn’t have. What he wanted was connection. Except for our sister, others in the family have kept their distance. They’re wary of his troubled journey. Heroin brings inevitable clashes with the law. Before his spiritual transformation, Marc logged seven years in prison.

But all he longs for is community. He got a fresh start with me. And so we talk, hour after hour.

“Any time, my brother,” Marc says. “Twenty-four/seven. I’m here. Just call.”

When Jesus walked on a small dusty corner of the planet he created, he talked with his Father twenty-four/seven. As he mingled with the people, he’d occasionally look upward and speak to his Father. Or he’d go off by himself to pray, sometimes through the night. For Jesus, prayer was as natural as breathing.

Yet there was a time when the perfect Father wasn’t there for him—not even for the perfect Son.

On that darkest of days, a mocking crowd had gathered to see the spectacle of Jesus’s execution. Days earlier, they’d praised him as the coming hero who would vanquish the Romans and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place as God’s favored city. But crowds are dangerously fickle and can quickly morph into mobs. Dissatisfied with Jesus’s otherworldly agenda of peace, servanthood, and love, they’d turned on him. They wanted vindication and victory. And so, in this terrible moment, the hated occupiers became allies as Roman soldiers nailed Israel’s disappointing non-hero to a cross.

As his life slipped away, Jesus reached back to David’s psalms to retrieve a cry he sent to a silent heaven. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1).

Hundreds of years before the Phoenicians invented crucifixion, David had written these words: “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). His song also says, “They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing” (v. 18). Jesus’s cry from the cross pointed the religious leaders who orchestrated his death to this section of their holy Scriptures—words that foretold the uncanny details of his death.

Within moments of Jesus’s anguished cry, heaven answered. An earthquake shook Jerusalem, literally and metaphorically. The temple curtain was torn in half, exposing the sacred Holy of Holies that no one, save for the High Priest, was to enter—and then only once a year. This profound fact is more than symbolic. The old system that restricted access to God was destroyed forever. Jesus, God in the flesh, had reconciled his fallen creation with his heavenly Father.

A fascinating detail about this moment in history is that the soldier who oversaw the execution suddenly acknowledged Jesus’s identity. “This man truly was the Son of God,” he exclaimed after the earthquake (Mark 15:39). The apostle Paul would write, “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). The crucifixion was already bringing unlikely people near to God, and Jesus’s executioner was among the unlikeliest, yet also one of the first.

Jesus took on the abandonment of sin so that we all could be brought into community with him. Paul also wrote, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul had once pursued Christians for the express purpose of imprisoning and killing them. There’s nothing more dangerous than a misguided zealot sure of his service for God. It took a divine intervention to rescue Paul (see Acts 9:1–19).

It also took a divine intervention to rescue Marc—and to rescue me. In a literal sense, we were both abandoned by our human father, and we’ve both made our share of terrible choices in life. Yet God never abandoned us. He had plans for us the entire time. We’ve been “united with Christ” (Ephesians 2:13), and that gives us a family whose bonds only grow stronger with time.

In his idiosyncratic Swiss and Spanish accent, Marc always ends our calls with the same heartfelt message. “I love you, my brother,” he says, a blend of joy and longing tingeing his voice. Often, his wife will call from the background, correcting him. “We love you,” she’ll emphasize. And we both laugh. We know we’re family.

In this life, we have plenty of pain and not enough joy, it seems. The happily-ever-after we all long for awaits us in the future. It’s not here yet. What we do get in the here-and-now is redemption and reconciliation. Genuine hope. We can have peace with God and community with each other. We gain a sense of belonging to our Father-God. He calls to us: “Anytime. I’m here twenty-four/seven. I’d love to hear from you.”

We’re not abandoned.


When have you felt abandoned?

Where do you find your sense of community? Perhaps you experience multiple “communities”—or none at all. What does that feel like for you?

Have there been times when you called out to God and you couldn’t sense an answer?

What happened in those moments?

What’s one way God has showed up for you unexpectedly?

How does it help you to consider that Jesus felt abandoned by his Father?