Jesus tells his disciples at the last supper, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” They are troubled and afraid because they realised that the one they love is about to be taken away from them. Jesus anticipates this fear of abandonment and says, “I will not leave you orphans.” (Jn 14:18) The fear of abandonment is one of the most common and debilitating fears we can experience in life. It is often a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, or a traumatic loss of a loved one.
The movie, Good Will Hunting, is a story of Will, a defiant young man, who struggles with abandonment issues. Will possesses a genius-level IQ but decides to work as a janitor at MIT. When he solved an extremely difficult math problem, his abilities were discovered by Professor Lambeau, who wanted to help Will to actualise his full potential. When Will was arrested for attacking an officer, the professor successfully convinced the judge to keep Will out of prison in exchange for math tutoring and behavioral counselling. Will’s uncooperative and hostile attitude led several counsellors to give up after their initial session until he met Sean MaGuire. Through hard questions, asked with compassion and respect, Sean was able to convince Will to confront deep wounds caused by his parents’ desertion and years of physical and emotional abuse in foster care.
Because of these wounds, Will cannot believe that he is loveable and each time that a healthy and loving relationship develops, he sabotages it to prevent the resurfacing of past suffering and pain. Will applied this defensive coping mechanism by abruptly breaking off his relationship with his girlfriend Skylar when she invites him to accompany her to California. A breakthrough takes place while Sean is finalising the report for the judge and discloses to Will that he too was physically abused by his father as a child. With intentional eye contact, he approaches Will and tells him repeatedly, “It’s not your fault...it’s not your fault.” When Will breaks down and cries, Sean embraces him. Loving presence heals and brings peace.
Loving presence and peace are what Jesus offered to the disciples as they face the fear of abandonment, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” We are not alone. If we love as he loved, the Father will love and make their dwelling with us.
* Abbot of St. Martin Abbey
Fr Marion Nguyen osb *