Sacrifice through devotion is life affirming. Our devotion to one another is an expression of our devotion to God.
This idea of devotion is best expressed for me when I think of the powerful testament of the life of my aunt and uncle’s friend Irene Corcoran O’Brien. Irene’s story was recorded in her son Michael’s book “Love is Stronger than Pain”. Her story depicts a woman of tremendous faith. She was the mother of eight children in Buffalo, New York. Two of her children were born with a rare skin disease called (Epidermolysis bullosa distrophica).
This birth defect exposes muscles and veins — sheaths of muscle tissue on parts of the body where skin is absent. Essentially it lacks large portions of the skin organ. The skin that is present is flakey and vulnerable to blisters and bleeding. Room temperatures had to be constantly monitored and exposure to the sun and elements was dangerous and even deadly.
It is a rare genetic disease and even rarer to have it happen in the same family. In those days, the seventies and eighties, John and Maureen were to die as children, but lived to be 40 and 38 respectively. They were a miraculous testament to the power of one mother’s devotion to her children.
Every day, Irene would treat the exposed parts of her children with medical ointments, Vaseline, gauze and bandages. As one can imagine, the process of attending to them took significant portions of her day. She carried out the practice their entire lives with the help of family and friends.
There were hardships in the family that added to the intensity of Irene’s heroic life. Irene’s husband died when the children were young and she lost her son to a snow mobile accident. Nevertheless, she persisted through these trials, and though her faith was tested, her devotion to God was strong and unwavering like the faith of Job.
How does one endure? How does one commit with unwavering devotion to another?
On one hand, it is innate within us. Some people have seen the viral video of the dog that is so devoted to his master that the animal is grieving at the grave of its friend. On the other hand, a conscious choice needs to be made to commit to the act of devotion. Christians make a conscious choice to serve or not serve their fellow man.
This conscious act of committing to another is the very lifeblood of what it means to be a Christian.
Biblically speaking there are countless examples of Jesus’ devotion to us, but also examples of Jesus’ friends devotion to him.
In Jesus’ time Roman tensions were always high in Jerusalem. Jesus was considered a threat to the state, so anyone associated with him would be deemed a threat as well. This is why the disciples went into hiding. Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and John’s devotion to Jesus at the foot of the cross as well as the weeping women of Jerusalem epitomizes the power of devotion.
They exposed their vulnerabilities in the name of Jesus to let him know he was not alone. Their presence there was a treasonous act. To be associated with Jesus meant they were willing to sacrifice their safety and security to let him know that he was not alone. This solidarity, their expression of agape (sacred love) demonstrated a true awareness of unconditional acceptance of their friend.
Although Jesus felt as though God had forsaken him on the cross, his mother was at the foot of the cross, Mary Magdalene, other women and his dear friend John. Whether we realize it or not, there is a spiritual mother and or friend at the foot of our cross, too.
Upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and the disciples claim a unique devotion that is unconditional. Joseph of Arimathea, the women who accompanied him in taking down Jesus’ body from the cross and Mary Magdalene who discovered Jesus’ resurrection were courageous acts of devotion. They were willing to die in Jesus’ name. Their fears are abated by the recognition of Jesus’ love for them and the recognition of the power of love in their own hearts by committing themselves to God.
Our devotion to understanding the power of Christ’s presence in our world is a test of our faith. Commitment to studying the Bible and relating it to our lives can be challenging. Sometimes we waver, but our dedication to a spiritual discipline demonstrates devotion.
In Matthew 6: 6 “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Irene O’Brien’s devotion to prayerfulness and her faith, her devotion to service of her children and devotion to God’s message for her changed her and, in turn, her example changed the life of others around her.
Devotion feeds the hunger of faith. The commitment one exerts in demonstrating devotion may be the very spiritual nourishment or sustenance one needs for the day.