In The United Church of Canada there is an affirmation of faith that says, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone.” Jenn Kline has lived that reality with the story of her brother.
When you first meet Jenn, you would think she is a caring and considerate student at Appalachian State University. She’s studying to get her master's in clinical mental health counseling, and her smile does a great job of masking the pain she feels.
February 8, 2015 sticks in her mind, and frankly my mind as well. I can tell you where I was when my fiancée got the call from Jenn that her brother, Jake, had overdosed on heroin and died after a lengthy struggle with opiate addiction. I sat down with Jenn and we talked about her brother’s addiction, and I think it’s important because addiction is something that permeates our faith communities. We as people of faith are not immune to the disease of addiction, and we must address it faithfully and honestly. It’s become a huge issue and it needs to be talked about.
When I spoke with Jenn, I asked her where she saw God in these moments of dealing with her brother’s death and addiction. She spoke of her hope of sharing about her brother’s addiction, and how it might lead people toward acceptance of their own realities. She said these words as a means of finding God,
“My forced relationship with death has made me a more spiritual person," she said. "A path has been created for me and continues to unfold in front of my eyes. Through death you find beauty in every moment, in every sound, taste, and feeling. You find beauty within yourself, because what else is there? A higher power has without a doubt placed itself in front of me. My brother’s death didn’t 'happen for a reason,' yet in a way I feel his soul is able to help even more people from the beyond. Ultimately, through my brother’s death has come my purpose. The beauty in my life now comes from the continuing opportunity to share my brother’s story to help others.”
Jenn’s story is one that is unique in circumstance but all too real for millions who struggle with addiction or have a family member who has suffered from the disease. Why is this a faith issue, you might ask? The person of Jesus Christ, that first century Palestinian Jewish rabbi who we have come to know as Lord, spoke of caring for those who are sick, and I don’t read of any distinctions Jesus made between physical and mental health. Though this disease leaves few physical scars, our faith communities must be open and honest about what it means to care for someone with this illness. We must be willing to stand in the gap and point them to professional help.
As you go throughout your week, pray for those who struggle with addiction. Then, let your prayers be turned to action as you go forth to be the person God created you to be, someone who cares for those who are hurting with the pain of addiction. I asked Jenn what she might say to someone who is struggling with addiction and this was her response: “We are here for you, and we care. There is no need to feel guilt or be ashamed. The conversation has started and people are beginning to listen. Have faith and stay strong. You are not alone.”
The Reverend Rob Lee is an ordained seminarian at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina (USA). Originally raised in the United Methodist Church, Rob was ordained and commissioned for ministry in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and has returned to his Methodist roots in seminary. Rob has written for outlets such as the Huffington Post and Washington Post, and has a weekly column in his hometown newspaper, the Statesville Record and Landmark. Rob has a forthcoming book due out this fall titled Stained Glass Millennials published by Smyth and Helwys Publishing Company. Reach him through Twitter: @roblee4