When my son first told me he no longer believed in G-d I thought it was normal adolescent stuff. He was almost 13 and after all when I was that age I questioned G-d all the time. What I forgot was that I wasn’t normal and neither is my son. And 13 isn’t necessarily the time young boys arrive at “what’s it all about Hermann Hesse?”
Maybe, in addition to other things, Manhattan kids are smarter and more savvy, but I had dropped the ball. I was so busy trying to smooth the rough edges I forgot that sometimes it’s all about the rough edges. So my son got more anxious and more depressed. He made some foolish and even dangerous choices. And I was forced to confront the reality that my son was in danger.
Only a year before he had cried to me, “How can I believe in G-d? He didn’t answer my prayers!” His prayers were not selfish ones. He had prayed for a mother suffering and in pain. He had prayed for medical miracles. He did not tell me, but I knew he also prayed that his birth father would, if not love him, at least want to look in his eyes and know him. Selfish? Not really. Essential, I would say. He mourned important loses in his life and as a sensitive soul did not feel prepared to cushion the blows that fell upon him. Mostly, he championed a mother who suffered and the ache in his soul searching for surcease. We talked about G-d in abstractions as well as absolutes. I told him he himself could not be the most powerful thing in his life. He had to concede some power to the beauty of nature, or the energy that gifted us to each other, or even the grace that gave me the strength to face my own trials and ultimately heal.
I thought we were making progress. Then came Newtown, and unending school lockdowns and drills, bad influences at school, and social media where he shared his thoughts with strangers. I knew his Facebook account, but knew nothing of tumbler, twitter, ask.fm. Suddenly, HE was the stranger and I had to become an investigative reporter.
I then had to admit something his father and I had really known all along. Our son feels a dark burden. So I assured him, “Son, we will never love you less, and cannot love you more.” I told him, “The only thing we wish for you is to feel safe, and to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whatever your burden, whenever you are ready to share it, please know that nothing you say or do will ever shock or embarrass us. You can never cause us shame. Your father and I, our love, our home – our FAMILY – we are your safety net. This is your absolute haven. If you know nothing else, please know that.”
In those moments I know he believes me. But he does not yet believe in himself. All we can do is continue to create a safe, true and honest place. Create an environment that is constant and consistent and one that will allow him to share what is in his heart; and one that will allow him to come out – to himself, to his parents, to anyone else – as the true man he is. Only then will I know that he finally accepts that who he is is not only loved and accepted, but truly beautiful inside and out.