The story is told of a prosperous, young investment banker who was driving a new BMW sedan on a mountain road during a snow storm. As he veered around one sharp turn, he lost control and began sliding off the road toward a steep cliff. At the last moment he unbuckled his seat belt, flung open his door, and leaped from the car, which then plummeted to the bottom of the ravine and burst into a ball of flames. Although he had escaped with his life, the man suffered a ghastly injury. Somehow his arm had been caught near the hinge of the door as he jumped and had been pinched off at the shoulder. A passing trucker saw the accident in his rearview mirror, pulled his rig to a halt and ran back to see if he could help. When he arrived at the scene, he found the banker standing at the roadside, looking down at the BMW burning in the ravine below. Incredibly the banker was oblivious to his injury and moaned, “My BMW! My brand new BMW!” The trucker pointed at the banker’s shoulder and said, “You’ve got bigger problems than that car. We’ve got to find your arm. Maybe the surgeons can sew it back on!”` The banker looked where his arm had been, paused a moment, and groaned, “Oh no! My watch! My band new Rolex watch!”
Are you are familiar with the pediatric psychiatrist Donald W. Winnicott? My guess is, not many of you probably are. This man is the chief proponent of what is known in psychoanalysis as “Object Relations Theory.” Winnicott put a name on a phenomenon familiar to all of us. He asserted that all children have what is called a ‘transitional object.’ We can tell it is a ‘transitional object’ because he or she always has that object with him or her. It’s usually dirty and ratty because it can’t be replaced. It might be a doll, a blanket, a teddy bear, a pacifier, an item of clothing; it can be anything! If a child’s ‘transitional object’ accidentally gets left behind somewhere and there is no substitute at hand, there is will be crying and lamentation.
One of the purposes of a transitional object, according to Dr. Winnicott is to help the child navigate through a world that is changing and uncertain. A transitional object somehow provides emotional security for a child until that child can adjust and grow inwardly in order to cope with the changes in the real world. But the fact is that even adults have ‘transitional objects.’ Adults may not be consciously aware of this exactly, but when their object is taken away they also experience real emotional trouble. For some adults like the young banker in our first story, their money or their things are their emotional anchor, or an emotional anchor for others may be another person, or a place, like a home in which one has stayed for many years, it may be one’s health, or it may even be a routine that one has established in one’s life. But what happens when this object is taken away? What happens when one has a great financial loss, or one’s health fails, or a spouse or close friend dies, what happens when one has to move to a different location, what happens when the routine is finally broken? When adults lose these objects that have given them emotional security, they suffer emotionally.
In our gospel today we have a situation where the disciples are about to lose Jesus the one upon whom they have set their emotional security. Jesus has proven to them that he is God’s Messiah. They have felt and seen his power and presence and have dedicated their lives to Jesus. I want you to consider what it would be like to walk and talk and live with Jesus, with God in the flesh. It must have been incredible. And now, now Jesus is talking about going away. At the beginning of this chapter, chapter 14, Jesus tells them, to not let their hearts be troubled. He tells them not to worry. And in our reading today he tells them that he will send someone in his place. He will send this Spirit of truth to them. Now he has just told them several minutes earlier that he himself is the truth, right? He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Now he is saying he will send them the Spirit of truth. He is sending the spirit of who he is, His Spirit to the disciples. Jesus tells them that this Spirit of truth will live with them and will be in them. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans.”
That is how they were beginning to feel. They were beginning to feel abandoned like orphans. They were thinking, “He is leaving us. We have given our hearts and lives to following Jesus. We really believe that he is God’s Messiah—the one sent from God to save Israel. We really love him and now, now he tells us he is going away?” And in fact later that night what happened? Jesus was arrested, condemned in a mock trial, and executed before most of the people of Jerusalem even knew what was going on. Thursday in the day he was teaching in the temple; Friday by noon he was hanging on a cross. This discussion Jesus was having with his disciples was Thursday evening. Jesus knew that within a few short hours he would be arrested, condemned, and executed. But his disciples were just had this vague feeling something really bad is about to happen. Jesus is trying to prepare them for the next several days. He has told them that he IS going away. But that he WILL send someone in his place. He will send someone that with His same presence. And indeed that is what happened. Jesus did go away; He died, was resurrected, spent some 40 days off and on with the disciples and then ascended into heaven. Then he did send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth to his people. The disciples were really despondent until Jesus rose again. He was their emotional security—but then, they did receive the Holy Spirit and it was OK again.
And this brings me back to transitional objects. What is your transitional object? Upon what do you hang your emotional security? When Jesus talked about this phenomenon he didn’t use the words transitional objects or emotional security instead he referred to one’s heart. Upon what or whom do you depend? As Christians we say we believe in Jesus and put our whole trust in him. But as we all know, it is an easy thing to say, but a harder thing to do. How do we learn to really trust Jesus? How do we learn to really know this Holy Spirit of Truth that Jesus told us lives with and in us? As Christians we believe that this world is not our home. We believe that we are waiting to transition into our next life, and so how do we get to the point where our emotional security is in Jesus and not put our confidence on something or someone around us that is in this world, this world that we are leaving?
As with many things in our Christian life, learning to depend and trust in Jesus is a matter of growth. In our gospel Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” First he said, “If you love me.” How do we learn to love Jesus? Scriptures says, “We love because He first loved us.” Like children, we do not really understand until we see it. We see God’s great love for us; we see the great love Jesus has for us by what he did for us on the cross. It is through the cross of Jesus, through his sacrificial death for that we see God’s great love for us. And as we do—as we begin to experience His love in our own hearts then we are able to love Jesus—to love God in return. Then if we love Jesus we will obey his commands. But we cannot obey his commands if we do not know what they are—so we need to learn God’s word. Therefore we need to grow in our love for Christ and grow in our obedience in following his commands. This will help us to have our emotional security in Jesus.
What IS your transitional object? Upon what are you placing your emotional security? None of us have ever seen as much turmoil, insecurity and worry as we see in our society today. Let us together grow in faith and grow in love and learn to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives so we completely have our emotional security in our Lord Jesus until we at last “transition” into the presence of our Lord in heaven. Amen