Imagine a book that creates an impulsive desire to toss it aside in hopes you never see it again. The book is hard. It’s frustrating. It’s uncomfortable. Yet the book is so beautifully written, so intoxicating and engaging, that you can’t put it down. And when you finally do, you breathe a sigh of relief even as you’re quick to pick it up again.
That was my experience with A Prayer for Orion: A Son’s Addiction and a Mother’s Love. Katherine James opens up, sometimes uncomfortably, in this memoir, chronicling her agony as a Christian mom watching her son struggle through his drug-addiction journey. She educates the reader with staggering facts and statistics about addiction. Yet she also offers hope in Christ for those feeling the effects of a loved one’s addiction.
Not for the Faint of Heart
James—a pastor’s wife, former teacher, and winner of Christianity Today’s 2018 fiction book award—would often look at Orion’s Belt (a constellation consisting of three bright stars in a line) in the night sky and pray for her three children, hence the title of the book.
When Katherine James and her husband found out their son was using heroin, their responses ran the gamut: disbelief, anger, helplessness, guilt. As they struggled to come to grips with their son’s addiction and decide how best to help him, their home became a refuge for an unlikely assortment of their son’s friends, each with their own story, drawn by the simple love and acceptance they found there―”the Lost Boys,” James calls them. In this sensitive, vulnerable memoir, award-winning novelist James turns her lush prose to a new purpose: to tell her family’s story through the twists and turns of her son’s addiction, overdose, and slow recovery. The result is not just a look at the phenomenon of drug abuse in suburban America, but also a meditation on the particular anguish of loving a wayward child and clinging to a desperate trust in God’s providence through it all.
James tells of her son and his friends, whom she affectionately calls the “Lost Boys.” The Lost Boys rotated through her home for several years, some living there and others just hanging out. James and her husband took the Lost Boys under their wings and showed them Jesus through Bible studies, hospitality, and conversation. Despite much ministry and prayer, they didn’t realize that their own son was also falling prey to a drug addiction. Little did they know that he’d hide drugs in their home, fake drug-test results, and ultimately go through two near-death overdose experiences.
This book isn’t for the faint of heart. James writes for those who’ve struggled or are struggling with a friend or family member battling the depths of addiction. Curse words are sprinkled throughout. Her storytelling is vivid and hard to swallow. The scenes shift from a bouncing toddler who had eaten too many children’s vitamins to a teenager lying on the floor, blue in the face from a heroin overdose.
Why read such a jolting book?
If you’ve experienced a loved one with addiction, you’re not alone. You’re not alone in your anger, confusion, or heartbreak. This books helps you to know you and your loved one aren’t isolated.
Comfort That Extends to Others
Those who love someone dealing with addiction need a Christian who will open wide and tell the real, raw stories. They need someone to point them to Jesus. And not just anyone. They need a prayer warrior who’s been on the front lines and witnessed the devastation firsthand.
You’re not alone in your anger, confusion, or heartbreak. This books helps you to know you and your loved one aren’t isolated.
James wrote this memoir, at least in part, to comfort other parents with addicted children. She comforts with camaraderie and Christ. This type of ministry is a treasure, because many Christians choose to hide their child’s struggles, some to protect their child and others to protect their own reputations. While it can be unwise to share about a child’s sin with others, we can open up about our own failures and sins as parents in order to comfort and encourage others in our churches. The Lord often uses this uncomfortable path to both grow and also use us for others’ good.
Humility and Prayer
Christianity isn’t a nice, tidy life wrapped in a bow of perfection. It’s messy and uncouth. Wayward children, addicted children, disobedient children—whatever their sin of choice, children humble us. As James writes,
the humbling that parents experience when a child is lost in drugs is a precious thing. That invisible seed of humility . . . needs to make its striking—its beautiful—appearance. The humility of everything falling apart, of every loved thing you have veering away like a meteor slipping from orbit, reveals your true state of affairs. (183)
One way we can express our humility is by giving ourselves to prayer. James prayed for her son and other two children. A lot. Whether our child is 5 years old and lying about stealing a cookie, or 16 and using heroin, we must pray. We need Christ. This parenting thing is wonderful, confusing, and heart-wrenching all at the same time. We can’t do it alone if we want to do it right. We need Jesus. And one way we find him is through prayer.
Some readers will object to James’s style of parenting or different choices she and her husband made. She refers to herself as a “free-range” parent. If her children wanted to try something, she would let them. She and her husband “habitually bought [their] son cigarettes” (149). They created a hangout room for them above their garage, which had the Lost Boys wandering in and out constantly. Other readers will object to the spiritual visions she and her husband claimed to have received through their ordeal.
Although many parents will not struggle with a drug-addicted child, every one of us will have sinful children who battle with their own issues. Our world is broken and full of tempting dangers. And our children will certainly fall. A Prayer for Orion beautifully reminds the reader that parents need Jesus as much as their children do. By the end of the book, those who are searching for hope will be hopeful in the Lord. He is present, and he invites us to pray for our own Orion.