Sharing advice as a fellow kidnapping survivor, Elizabeth Smart has spoken out on Jayme Closs’s courageous escape to freedom and what lies ahead. In one interview on NBC’s The Today Show, she said, “As big as this feels right now, it doesn’t have to define her life,” and added “You don’t go back to the old normal, there’s only a new normal.”
The fear besieging us all through the Closs family’s tragedies is terrifying. But as details emerge, we all risk being held hostage by the perpetrator’s actions.
Which of us isn’t going to think twice about our child getting on the school bus, much less wondering about who might be watching and why? How long will we wonder if we can protect our children in their own homes? These feelings of helplessness quickly swirl into a storm – rocking us with panic and doubt, drowning us with questions of how to keep our kids safe. Strongest of all is the swelling confusion and anger towards the one who brutally took, not only the lives of Jayme’s parents and her own, but our own sense of small-town-America security.
As big as this feels right now, it doesn’t have to define our lives. We won’t go back to the old normal, there’s only a new normal. Paraphrasing Ms. Smart, and taking a deep breath, I pray this new normal does, in fact, define our lives.
Not define them by fear, but by love, by forgiveness and healing. The first reading for Mass the day before Jayme escaped was from 1 John 4:11-18. Verse 18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”
And on the day Jayme resisted fear and chose to find her way home, these words of Jesus, quoted by Isaiah, were proclaimed as the Gospel reading in churches near and around both Barron and Gordon, in the diocese and around the world: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18)
No one can pretend to know what Jayme is dealing with or what she will encounter on her path to healing. We can, however, be sure that each of us – with no two paths alike – need healing in our own lives. Maybe the best way we can support this brave young lady, and allow her loss to already be a gain for us, is to share in this journey to wholeness.
The journey entails wrangling with the temptation to let anger and unexplainable evil blot out our faith in a good and loving God. Passing through our own places of pain, struggling alongside Jayme to discover that her new normal, and ours, is ever-so-gently cradled in the arms of that God.
As we watch the process of justice unfold, may our desire for Jayme’s peace and healing override anger, vengeance and fear. May we have Jayme’s bravery and resilience to escape the captors of our own souls, not shying from the pain of loss but pressing into grief, holding tight to what is true, and finding ultimate healing through forgiveness.
The thing we usually miss about forgiveness is that it doesn’t ignore the debt owed; it doesn’t deny the wrong done. It is not in opposition to justice – for Jayme or for ourselves – but forgiveness brings the fullness of peace, trusting God as the ultimate judge. It allows us, from our place of pain and loss, to hand the debt owed over to Him who paid the price for all sin from his cross on Calvary.
It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but from experience, I can say, don’t belittle it unless you have tried it.
Total surrender to a cradling God can bring us to experience miraculous healing; but Christ-like forgiveness is essential if we are to escape the phantom-grip our captors maintain long after apparent liberation. St. Pope John Paul II, speaking from personal experience, said “Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.” He also said, “Forgiveness demonstrates the presence in the world of the love which is more powerful than sin.”
Asked what she would say directly to Jayme Closs if given the chance, Smart acknowledged how this experience “certainly has changed her life; certainly it will continue to affect her life, but it doesn’t have to define her life. She can choose who she wants to be, and she can choose where life takes her. Because ultimately it’s our choices that make us who we are.”
May we accompany Jayme in her choice for freedom. This Prayer for Freedom from Captivity could be helpful along the way.
Mary, our Mother, visit me from Heaven,
Teach me to praise God’s name.
May his Kingdom come, his Will be done,
In my heart and home this day.
Nourish my soul with grace and peace,
By your pierced heart help me forgive.
Sweet Spirit, bring light, for long is the night,
And darkness threatens my mind.
Good Shepherd, come near, protect me from fear,
From evil assailing my soul.
Father of mercies, I cry out to you,
Forgiveness seems out of my reach.
Free me from sin, heal me from within,
Deliver my captive heart.
Cradle me in your arms, keep me safe from life’s harms,
Hold me fast in your gracious embrace.
May your glory be shown, your salvation be known;
Turn my gaze to your Precious Son’s face.
Through his passion and death, by the blood of his cross,
May my own pierced heart be healed.
Mother Mary, speak softly that morning is near
And Jesus’s victory my shield. Amen.