My mother was not one to talk much about God or faith but she had a deep affection for her Syrian Orthodox Church where Mass lasted for several hours, incense was a staple and icons of the saints and holy ones of the Church were prominent.
I began to understand the faith lessons my mother taught me over and over again as a child through her generosity of spirit and her frequent visits to sick or lonely family members, friends or acquaintances.
My mother would enter a room with a smile to warm any heart, a plate of homemade Jiffy muffins and everyone would begin to feel better. On one of the few occasions when I saw my dad get mad at her, it was because she had gone to the hospital to visit someone on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t understand why he would be angry about that. It seemed to me that having my mom there, with muffins and a smile, was the best gift in the world for someone who might be facing Christmas alone.
Life teaches us that the crosses we are all destined to carry at some point come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Perhaps the heaviest of these is loneliness, and the belief that we are forgotten.
When I served as a catechist for children, I sometimes saw the fear of “forgotten” in the faces of students waiting for overdue parents. Often a young child would cry inconsolably believing they had been left behind.
I saw this pain experienced most profoundly with a homebound friend—aged, infirm, fearful, lonely; a beautiful child of God who truly was left behind by family and friends.
On a particularly bad day she called to talk and I’ll never forget her words: “This is not living,” she said. “And if it is, I would rather die.”
She was living a forgotten life; one that was acutely empty and painful. For her, as for anyone who suffers from such loneliness, the pain is made worse not simply by the absence of human love but, more so, by what that represents – the belief that God has forgotten us, too.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote powerfully of that experience: "There is no human misery more strongly felt than the state of being forsaken by God. Nothing is so terrible as rejection by Him. It is a horror to live deserted by God and effaced from His mind.”
His words recall the pleading, pain-filled cry of Christ as he hung dying on the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
How often have we felt the need to speak the same words? How often and how deeply does the wound of loneliness rupture our hearts? In these moments of pain it is easy to believe that God has lost sight of what we believe to be our insignificant lives, but Heschel would not agree.
This prayerful man of God wrote of "Divine pathos," the grief and suffering of God with God's children and God's creation when they are in pain.
Anyone who has ever loved knows that this kind of suffering can only flow from love, for without love there can be no grief. The deeper the love, the more profound the grief.
It is comforting to believe that God knows our pain, feels our pain and holds our hearts and souls in the passionate embrace of divine love. It is from such an embrace that we are able to renew our strength and become the spark of divine love in the life of someone who feels forgotten.
We know in our hearts that “forgotten” should never be anyone’s last memory.
Mary Clifford Morrell is the author of "Things My Father Taught Me About Love," and "Let Go and Live: Reclaiming your life by releasing your emotional clutter," both available as ebooks on Amazon.com.