Oliver stopped going to church after his parents died when he was a young boy. His grandmother tried to persuade him to return to no avail, but he still refused until something terrible happened to her. Oliver got desperate and went back to church for help and found something more instead.
Thirteen-year-old Oliver stared at the empty street where the ambulance had disappeared from view. His grandmother suffered some attack during a discussion with him. He told her that believing in God was foolish, and she fainted.
He had no idea what else to do but call 911, and she was taken away. The paramedics told him to ride with them, but he was afraid. He stayed back and would visit her in the morning when everything calmed down.
He twisted and turned in his bed but couldn’t sleep for a second, so he got up at 5 a.m. and took the first bus to the hospital. The nurse was kind enough to guide him to her room, and there she was — sleeping and looking so frail. She had never looked like that before.
His grandmother, Marsha Kennedy, was one of the strongest people in the world. When his parents got into a terrible car accident when he was six, she was his rock. While his parents remained in the hospital for months, Marsha stepped up and took care of Oliver, making it seem like everything would be back to normal soon.
Back then, he asked her why she was so sure, and she said, “Faith.” She was a devoted churchgoer and told Oliver that prayer and God would help his parents. So the little boy accompanied the woman as much as possible, begging that celestial being for their quick recovery. But six months after the accident, his dad passed.
His mother followed only two weeks later, and the six-year-old’s faith in God disappeared in an instant. He refused to go to church, even at Marsha’s insistence. She always had to leave him with a neighbor on Sunday mornings so that she could attend mass. He refused to talk about God or say grace at the table. He was done with God, religion, and everything else.
But now, as he sat by his grandmother’s bedside table, he wished a higher being existed. He hoped it was real. His grandmother was his last relative, and he wouldn’t be able to live without her. Oliver was 13 years old, still very much a kid inside.
He spent hours with her, and the older woman woke up a few times. Hopefully, that was a good sign. But he came the next day, and the doctor explained that she would need to be watched for some time.
“You have to start going to school, Oliver,” Marsha said weakly from the bed.
“No, grandma. Everyone understands that I have to be here for you,” the boy answered.
“But you have to get back to normal. I’m going to be fine after a few more days here, and you have to study hard to keep up your grades. Come on. Tomorrow, you’ll go back to school and come here in the afternoon. How does that sound?” Marsha insisted, and Oliver couldn’t say no.
After several days of their routine, he began to worry that his grandmother would not recover at all. She didn’t wake up at all during his visit that day. And the boy felt even worse thinking of things back home. Food had started to run out, and he had no money. He had no idea how to access his grandmother’s bank accounts or buy anything.
There was no one to ask. Their neighbor would undoubtedly help, but he didn’t want to tell anyone. (What if someone else went to the hospital and worried his grandma? Or worse, what if someone told CPS, and they took him? Oliver thought as he walked home that night from the hospital. The streets were empty, but he suddenly saw several people coming out of the local church.
There was only one church in this small town in Maryland, and almost everyone went there. But Oliver didn’t recognize the people coming out. They were all eating and drinking from plastic plates, and the boy frowned.
He moved closer and saw a sign at the outdoor bulletin board that invited anyone in need to have a nice meal inside. He remembered his grandma volunteering a few nights a week but had forgotten it entirely now.
Oliver frowned and wondered if he should go in. There was no food back home because his grandmother was supposed to go for the monthly groceries at some point and was hospitalized instead. Now, they had run out of everything. But they were not as needy as some of these people, so it would be wrong to take some of their food.
But suddenly, the boy heard a voice calling his name. “Oliver! Oliver! Come here.” It was Father Calhoun, the same priest he had met years ago when he accompanied his grandmother to most services.
“Oh, good evening, Father Calhoun,” Oliver said, placing his hands in his pockets. “I’m just walking back from the hospital.”
“I heard about our dear Marsha. I promised to visit this weekend, but we’ve been pretty busy. Listen, you want to come to eat something? I know you’ve been staying home alone,” Father Calhoun offered.
“Oh no. This is food for the needy. I have food back home… I think…,” Oliver began and stopped himself, closing his mouth tightly. He thought about the empty fridge and his grandmother in the hospital. He might lose her too, and tears gathered in his eyes. He sobbed heavily and embarrassingly in front of the priest at the possibility of losing his grandmother.
“Hey, hey. Come here,” Father Calhoun said and wrapped him in a hug, where Oliver heaved and lamented his life for a while.
Afterward, Father Calhoun took him inside and offered him a full plate of food. The boy tried to resist, but he survived on sandwiches for a few days, and the warm meal was too enticing.
Father Calhoun asked him about his life when his belly was full, and the boy unloaded all his worries on him. The grown man listened to everything without interruption and patted Oliver’s back.
“And yeah, well. That’s it. I don’t know what I’m going to do if something happens to grandma. She didn’t wake up today,” the teenager finished.
“Don’t worry about that. This is a small town, and we help each other out. You won’t be alone, but you have to ask for help,” the priest replied.
“May I ask you something?” Oliver wondered, and Father Calhoun nodded. “Why do you believe in all this? I prayed hard when I was little, and I still lost my parents. Bad things happen all the time in the world, and some people still believe. Why?”
“That’s a complicated question,” the priest started. “There’s no right answer, honestly. Everyone believes for different reasons. But to me, believing is easy as breathing air. It is a necessary part of life. There are tons of things in this world we can’t explain, even with the advancements of sciences, and it’s hard to explain a belief.”
“But if you pray and the bad thing still happens, what’s the point?” Oliver continued, curious about the subject. He knew his grandmother would want him to pray for her. But how could he do that when he didn’t have faith?
“Are you only a good person to get something in return? Or are you just good?” Father Calhoun asked him. Oliver thought about it and shook his head. “Well, it’s like that. God is not Santa. And life needs balance. My faith makes me believe that everything happens for a reason.”
“So, are my parents in heaven?”
“I’m sure they are, just like my parents. When I pray, I feel like I’m closer to them, not just God. And close to everyone in the world who needs a little comfort. Faith is complicated, personal, and deep. Only you can choose what to believe in, but no matter what, God loves you,” the priest finished, patting his back one last time. He left shortly after because a nun had been calling him.
Oliver sat down in one of the back pews and started praying. He didn’t fully understand the conversation with Father Calhoun, but it had brought him comfort for some reason. Maybe, that’s what faith is all about. So he prayed for his grandmother’s recovery and his parents, wherever they might be.
Father Calhoun had told several neighbors that Oliver had run out of groceries, and the town came together to bring him some necessities. The next-door neighbor always ensured he had something warm to eat at night.
Meanwhile, Oliver began visiting the church again, He was there several times a week and prayed hard every time. Luckily, his grandmother recovered, and he started going with her to church on Sundays. He embraced the teachings of Father Calhoun, even if they were all subject to interpretation.
At one point, he finally understood why his grandmother so blindly followed her faith. It was comforting. It brought peace. He never judged her again.
What can we learn from this story?
Don’t judge anyone for following their faith. There’s a reason why everyone believes in their own god or gods.
Faith means different things to everyone. For Oliver, returning to faith was about finding peace. It might be different for others.